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Seemingly in constant trouble at school, 14-year-old Antoine Doinel returns at the end of every day to a drab, unhappy home life. His parents have little money and he sleeps on a couch that's been pushed into the kitchen. His parents bicker constantly and he knows his mother is having an affair. He decides to skip school and begins a downward spiral of lies and theft. His parents are at their wits' end, and after he's stopped by the police, they decide the best thing would be to let Antoine face the consequences. He's sent to a juvenile detention facility where he doesn't do much better. He does manage to escape however.Written by
Truffaut's powerful and moving look at adolescence
THE FOUR HUNDRED BLOWS (François Truffaut - France 1959).
Twelve-year-old Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) has troubles at home and at school. Ignored and neglected by his parents, his relationship with his mother is further strained when he discovers that she has taken a secret lover. Added to this, his school teachers have written him off as a trouble maker and, with luck seemingly never on his side, it is Antoine who ends up getting the blame for bad behaviour. Finding refuge only in his love of cinema, Antoine soon finds it necessary to break free and discover what the world can offer outside the confines of everyday life.
I have always struggled with the labeling of this film as one of the pivotal entrances in the "Nouvelle Vague". Since Jean-Luc Godard's "Au Bout de Soufflé", who uses a completely different approach to film-making, with his restless jump-cutting and endless references to pop culture, Truffaut presents his case clear cut, as realistic as possible. But this was something completely different from the way American films portrayed juvenile delinquency so far. No iconic trouble makers like James Dean or Marlon Brando, just a realistic portrait of a twelve-year old boy sliding into isolation. The very idea alone was something novel, seldom depicted in a way like this.
Much of the praise must go to Jean-Pierre Léaud, who never even seems to be acting. His every movement, thought, expression come across as completely natural. Truly, one of the most remarkable performances of such a young actor I've ever seen. Watching this over 40 years after it was made, it all looks deceptively simple, with Truffaut's perfect integration of music and image, location shooting on the streets of Paris and the naturalistic performances. Truffaut used many innovations but they are not easily noticeable as in Godard's work. This was for instance the first French film to be shot in widescreen (aspect ratio 2.35:1), which required much planning on Truffaut's part, with some surprising results. In many scenes we don't see the other person Antoine is talking to, which gives the viewer the illusion as if Antoine is almost talking directly to the camera. Jean-Pierre Léaud would continue his role as Antoine in four more films by Truffaut, "Love at Twenty" (1962), "Stolen Kisses" (1968), "Bed and Board" (1970) and "Love on the Run" (1979).
Camera Obscura --- 9/10
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