“Your parents say you’re always lying.
Oh, I lie now and then, I suppose. Sometimes I’d tell them the truth and they still wouldn’t believe me, so I prefer to lie.
Having never seen a Truffaut film before and having been only faintly aware of the New Wave movement in France, this film took me entirely by surprised. I expected some standard art film with cool techniques dragged down by a tedious story. What I got was a fantastic work of cinema with really cool techniques and a touching narrative. This is the type of movie that excites me to broaden my horizons and review all these movies. Nothing so far has really taken me by surprise like this one.
Francois Truffaut, a primarily leader of the French New Wave movement, pulls out this film for his debut feature. The title is a bit confusing, as its original French meaning is an idiom meaning “to raise hell,” but they left its direct English translation in place which suggests a bit of a different film. The 400 Blows is about a young boy named Antoine Doinel who is struggling through adolescence. Doinel is based heavily on Truffaut’s own experiences, and several of his future works ended up telling this same boy’s story later in life. It’s a terrific concept that lends a lot of heart to the character.
Where I think this film really finds success is in its honesty. Doinel is a relatable character with childhood struggles anyone can relate with. Truffaut captures perfectly how such trivial things can mean the whole world to a child: a mean teacher, fighting parents, and so on. The dialogue is genuine, and it becomes clear that Truffaut is personally attached to the story. It is also troubling to see this boy’s home life and other factors that lead him into a life of petty crime. Truffaut is suggesting that it’s so easy to fall into these traps in adolescence and that any of us could have met the same fate due to factors out of our control. It’s a bold concept to explore.
After reading up on the New Wave movement, it is also now apparent that Truffaut and his colleagues were visionaries of film and brought the medium to a new level. Long tracking shots, jump cuts, freeze frames – these are techniques that were often done out of both a financial necessity due to low budgets and also this new artistic vision that developed in France. These films tell the stories of individuals. The 400 Blows certainly reflects this, as it captures how an adolescent sees the world in a way that no other film seems to accomplish. This is truly Doinel’s story, and it feels so genuine because of this style.
I love the little moments in this film that I could see myself having as a child. The way Doinel speaks to his friends and they make their little plans together is a spot on aspect of being a child to which anyone can relate. These moments help build the film into a moment of heartbreak towards the end when Doinel is sent away to the juvenile center. You see yourself in this kid. He’s not bad at all; he’s really just finding his way. Then the moment of freedom when he finally hits the ocean – it’s a beautiful moment that wraps up the film at its highest point.
The 400 Blows is a stunning debut work by Francois Truffaut and remains a shining pillar of the New Wave movement. It really brings me joy to see such an honest movie, and I am certainly looking forward to seeing what other works the movement has produced. I would certainly recommend this film to anyone.
Films Left to Watch: 987