Monday, July 6, 2020

The 400 Blows

The Four Hundred Blows (1959), Les quatres cents coups, is Truffaut’s David Copperfield and the start of an autobiographical series that included Stolen Kisses (1968), Bed and Board (1970) Love on the Run (1979). It’s also inadvertently a love letter to the vanished black and white Paris of photographers like Eugene Atget. The director’s first feature is dedicated to Andre Bazin, the legendary Cahiers du Cinema editor who was a father figure to the directors of the Nouvelle Vague. Truffaut is not only telling a story but reveling in his discovery of a vocabulary. That’s what he had in common with Godard. Both regarded celluloid as a language. “The cinema is truth at 24 frames per second," Godard famously said. Dissolves, fades and wipes irradiate the film. Early on, the camera pans up at the majesty of the city of light, and the facades of its Beaux Arts exteriors then later captures its cast of characters in dramatic overhead shots. Truffaut’s romance with cinema itself was for Paris what Dziga Vertov’s l929 documentary, Man With a Movie Camera, was for Odessa, Moscow, Kharkov and Kiev. Paris Belongs to Me is ironically the title of the film that Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), the film’s rebellious adolescent and his argumentative parents rush out to see in a moment of celebration. “Il avait le fond,” "it has depth" the mother intones to her son's clueless esthetically deprived stepfather. Antoine is at war with authority. British angry young man films like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and Look Back in Anger (1959) are another point of comparison and of course the director's project was a rebellion against conventional cinema. Balzac is Antoine's hero but he's thrown out of school for plagiarizing his idol whose portrait he keeps in an altar. He runs away from home (prophetically writing to his parents “we’ll discuss all that happened later”) and becomes a thief. He’s a professional outsider, at war with the world and an adolescent version of the venerable tradition of artist criminals--though Truffaut's alter ego the young Doinel is no Genet. In the case of The 400 Blows the transgression significantly amounts to stealing a typewriter. The title of the film derives from the expression “to live a wild life.” "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth,” is the famed Picasso quote. Doinel is a liar, but his mischief is the first step in the creation of the sensibility many cineastes will one day cherish.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.