Thursday, August 27, 2009

The 400 Blows

François Truffaut, 1959, France, bw (9.0*)
Excellent first film of François Truffaut that deservedly put him on the map, where he caused quite a stir at Cannes, winning best director. The film was shot in a documentary style about a troubled youth, Antoine, played very naturally and realistically by Jean-Pierre Léaud at only age thirteen; the film succeeds because of his performance, and much of that was improvised by Trauffaut, a former film critic making his debut film at age 25. This is a realistic story about being an alienated teenager in a big city, and it still rings true today, five decades later.

The story is actually partially autobiographical, and Antoine and his best friend Rene would cut school to go to the cinema, just as Trauffaut himself did, then would get in trouble with the school authorities, who would of course notify the parents. Antoine senses that his parents don’t really want him around, so he spends as much time running away as he does in their cramped apartment. This film has some of the more memorable scenes in movies: kids spinning around in a roundabout amusement ride, shot from their vantage point and that of the spectators watching them from above, glued by centrifugal force to the ride's walls; another of kids faces while watching a puppet show, some with open-mouth astonishment, the same looks you’d see from a cinema audience as well, especially in a children’s film. Perhaps my favorite: Antoine's face staring out from the back of a police bus, at the city lights of Paris rolling by.

I just watched this for the third time, and it actually gets better each time, as I notice new things on each viewing. This is a bona fide cinema masterpiece (ranked #60 on our survey, the 5th French film, just after his own Jules and Jim), with terrific camerawork, a very natural style, with a total lack of pretension or self-awareness. Winner of several international awards, with one Oscar nomination for screenplay. The awards page at IMDB

[Note: don't be deterred by the title, he's not a victim of abuse, he only gets slapped a couple of times, once by the police. Be sure to watch the interviews on the Criterion dvd if possible. Most will recognize Truffaut as the actor playing the scientist in Close Encounters who invented the musical method of communication with the aliens.]


Shubhajit August 28, 2009 at 8:23 AM  

Nice review of an incredible movie. 400 Blows undoubtedly ranks as one of the greatest masterpieces of this medium.

On a different note, though people debate as to which of 400 Blows and Jules & Jim was his greatest work, I feel it was his 2nd feature (sandwiched between the above two) - Shoot the Piano Player. 400 Blows would, in my opinion, rank a close second.

José Sinclair August 28, 2009 at 3:16 PM  

I also like Shoot the Piano Player, and Jules et Jim, but I think after repeated viewings that 400 Blows holds up best, and then to consider that it was the first feature by a 25-yr old critic, that makes it more amazing..

José Sinclair August 28, 2009 at 6:53 PM  

Just posted top ranked crime films on the net at World's Best Films. 400 Blows is #21, Shoot the Piano Player is #93. Under foreign language crime, they will be #4 and #17.. (coming soon)

See the genre posts for top ranked films on the net at:

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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