FROM THE VAULT: The 400 Blows

In the haze that was college, I managed to between work, pretending to study and the occasional boyfriend induced class skipping- I managed to actually learn a thing or two. One of the classes I took has stuck with me. I don’t remember all the dates or the facts, but the names of the directors, the producers the imagery makers of the World Cinema class I took at Cal State Fullerton continues to permeate my mind, to influence my dreams. Kurosawa, Antonioni and yes…Truffaut. 

The breadth of the class was staggering and I saw images from countries I didn’t even know made films. It was in this class  that I was introduced to the French New Wave and where I saw The 400 Blows, François Truffaut’s masterpiece. 

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Truffaut was one of the pioneers of French New Wave. The movement is characterized by a break from the staid period dramas that had pervaded French cinema. Most of the filmmakers who worked within this movement were born in the 1930’s and these films were shot mostly in the late 1950’s-late 1960’s. 

As one of the film critics from the magazine Cahiers du Cinema, or cinema notebook in a literal translation; Truffaut  along with other critics, developed over time a philosophy of filmmaking which could be distilled into the idea of a caméra-stylo. That is, using the camera as a pen, the director becomes an auteur, or author of the film. His film is a personal stamp- a personal manifesto.

The reverb effect from this philosophy of filmmaking forever changed films as we know it. Many of the innovations, experimental shots and social realism are elements that continue to be apart of the innovative filmmakers arsenal. 

Even Tarantino, one of my favorite directors in all his sewn together symbolism and multiple layers of influences retains a singular vision. A Tarantino film is a Tarantino film. The French New Wave film artists would see him as an auteur. 

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The 400 Blows, translates to a French idiom meaning essentially to “raise hell”. The hell raiser of the movie is one Antoine Doinel, a young Parisian boy who is seen as a troublemaker by all he encounters, as a problem to be resolved. He is misunderstood and overlooked. After all, how bad can a Balzac obsessed boy be? 

His character is seen as an interpretation of Truffaut’s youth. Himself, the boys he grew up with and as a searing social critique on the juvenile system in France at the time. 

When it came out in 1959, The 400 Blows was recognized immediately for the revolution it was. It won at Cannes and at the Academy Awards. Most importantly, it  in won in the hearts and minds of cinéphiles everywhere.  Many fans of this film are captivated by its ending sequence which resonates emotionally long after the film is over. Antoine runs towards the ocean which he has always longed to see. Torn between what he has  known and the possibility of what lies beyond.

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