Thursday, November 10, 2011

The 400 Blows

C'est la Semaine de la Nouvelle Vague française! Toute la semaine, nous allons voir des films de cette période révolutionnaire et les plus influents dans l'histoire de certains de ses plus grands réalisateurs.
seen online via YouTube

What do you do if your child keeps on acting up? I would imagine that's got to prey on the minds of every parent at some point - the worry/fear that their child may be a budding Bart Simpson only without the "cute" catchphrases and weird hair. While I'm not a parent, I've had to deal with my share of problem children, but I never felt that any of them were in danger of becoming an actual delinquent. Hyperactive, yes; insufficiently disciplined at home, possibly; but a serious troublemaker, never. That's the point where a parent's love would be severely tested.

I can't imagine giving up on my hypothetical child, though under such circumstances I'd bet it would be deeply tempting. You naturally wouldn't want to think it's your fault your kid is the way he is, but self-blame would probably be unavoidable, as would jealousy (everyone else's kids are good, so why not mine?) and embarrassment (everyone must think I'm a terrible parent). Of course, when you've got parents that spoil their kids rotten and justify their bad behavior, perhaps it's a wonder that we don't get more bad apples.

While not a crime movie in the sense that Bob le Flambeur was, The 400 Blows did put me somewhat in mind of those old 30s gangster movies that show you how they grew up, what kind of homes they came from, and what led them to their inevitable life of crime. The movie doesn't point to any one reason for Antoine's behavior. No, he doesn't have the greatest parents in the world, or for that matter, the greatest teachers, but he makes his own choices, and lives with the consequences.

As for his parents, what can you say? Clearly they weren't cut out for the job. I love the part where the mom actually resorts to bribery to get Antoine to do better in school. I think they did care for Antoine to a degree, but they were utterly clueless to the things he needed because they were wrapped up in their own issues.

Blows was directed by French New Wave superstar Francois Truffaut and dedicated to the memory of Andre Bazin. Bazin was a French film critic who co-founded the seminal film magazine Cahiers du Cinema and helped develop the auteur theory of filmmaking. He died of leukemia in 1958, the year before Blows came out and a day after shooting began on it. Truffaut was one of several writers for Cahiers who would go on to become notable FNW directors, including Jean-Luc Godard. 

Truffaut wrote a piece for the magazine called "A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema" which attacked the French studio system for its conservative attitude towards filmmaking. Truffaut and his contemporaries preferred the work of guys like Griffith and Chaplin from the silent era, and Lang, Lubitsch, De Sica, Welles and Ray from the sound era, plus some French directors who worked outside the studio system like Melville and Tati, and old-schoolers like Renoir.

Truffaut and friends started down their filmmaking careers by making shorts, and eventually, when Truffaut blew up with Blows in 1959 at the Cannes Film Festival, suddenly everyone was talking about the New Wave, given that name by the Cannes journalists, inspired by an article in L'Express from two years earlier referring to changes in society in general. The rest was history, and Truffaut's career as a world-renowned director was only beginning.

Auparavant, dans la Semaine de Nouvelle Vague française:


  1. What I love most about 400 Blows is all of the film conventions that Truffaut broke when making it, and yet he did so subtly, in ways that you can barely notice. The absurdly long tracking shot at the end, tiny blips in which which the film is (purposely) spliced incongruently when his mom is speaking, the camera drifting away from Antoine as he speaks, the freeze frame at the end... Most of that stuff was revolutionary at the time (maybe all of it?). The incongruent splicing was something he duplicated in Shoot the Piano Player.

    Great review!

  2. Thanks. in the process of writing this, I saw that Truffaut and Leaud made sequels to 'Blows,' so maybe I'll check those out too at some point.

  3. Yep, several of them. I think there's five. I've seen the first two, and really intend to see the other three sometime very soon.

  4. I didn't even realize Leaud was still around and still acting until recently.


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