Thursday, February 09, 2006

The 400 Blows

Dir: Francois Truffant (Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim, Day for Night)


A very happy birthday to my favorite French New Wave director who unfortunately fell victim to a brain tumor some twenty-two years ago. Truffant, one of the "founding members" of the New Wave, began as a film critic, with Cahiers du Cinema, who believed the full extent of criticism can only be realized through practice (an example we rhetorical theorists should follow). Truffant, like many of the other new wavers, wished to elevate cinema to an artform on par with literature, thus requiring evidence of a definitive authorial voice (autuer theory emerged from this movement). The 400 Blows is Truffant's first full-length feature film and the initial entry of his Antoine Doniel series, a set of four semi-autobiographical films (reviews of the other three forthcoming).

Unlike other many other new wave directors, Truffant does not have an aversion to narrative and plot. We begin our story with Antoine, an early teen who is trapped a stifling school system and somewhat distant family. Doniel has a penchant for trouble, often a result of his free-spirited imagination and resistance to authority. His increasing disillusion with his parents leads him to run away from home on numerous occasions, only to end up where he began. Truffant's keen cinematic knowledge and love of film is evident on screen. Many of the prime actors are children, and Truffant's confidence in these child actors is unwavering. Truffant is comfortable with long takes and complex scene changes that allow the kids to be kids; he aptly captures the play and innocence that accompanies even the most precocious of children. This is only the second time I have seen this gem (my first viewing experience was rather stifled by a poor transfer, but Criterion has done yet another marvelous job on cleaning up a film), but I was struck by the tenderness of the film. Although I love many new wave film, too often these films sacrifice humanity in making broader intellectual insights. The genius of Truffant is to balance both demands. The erudite Truffant not only made exceptional films (you all should see the ones I mentioned above) that appealed to myopic cinephiles, but also loved more popular fare (most notably, his starring role in Close Encounters) and was not ashamed to say so.

Watch this film. You will be a better person for doing so.