Monday, April 10, 2006

400 Blows (1959)

Directed by: Francois Truffaut
Written by: François Truffaut and Marcel Moussy
Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy

Well, I am starting out this blog because I wanted to post a record of all the films I've been watching. After I returned to America after living in Spain for a year, I thought how great it would have been if I kept a blog while I was there. My best ideas come after it's too late. I've rented a lot of great (and not so great) films from Netflix that I would have liked to comment on in the last year, but fortunately, it's not too late because I will still be renting some more.

Anyway, I am taking the name of the blog from the last film I saw, Francois Truffaut's film Stolent Kisses the second (third if you count his short film Antoine and Collette). The special feature's chapter was called "The Doinel Agency," a reference to the main character, Antoine Doinel's job as a private detective.

Doinel, director Truffaut and actor Jean-Pierre Léaud all had their debut's in 1959s 400 Blows, which was a major step in France's New Wave Cinema. Noted for being largely autobiographical it told the story of a young Antoine Doinel (played by Léaud who was 15 at the time of the shooting and had actually run away from his boarding school in order to attend the casting call, a fact that impressed Truffaut).

Throughout the film, Doinel is always in trouble with either his school or his parents or both. Although all of the authority figures see him as a trouble maker, the viewer gets the feeling that he is earnestly searching for his place in the world and ditching school, lying and stealing are only byproducts of his confusion.

At one point, his teacher penalizes him for plagiarizing Balzac in one of his essays. I don't know what they read in French literature classes, but if I were a teacher, I would have been impressed that a student knew enough about Balzac to plagiarize him. Anyway, a more skilled teacher would recognize that he had potential as a writer, after all, didn't T.S. Eliot once say that "A bad writer borrows, but a good writer steals"?

The film is more episodic than plot driven, and although I usually get bored with films that don't have a strong narrative drive, Truffaut manages to make each of the episodes interesting enough to keep my attention until the final scene that seemed to give meaning to the rest of the film.

In the final scene, Doinel escapes from the juvenile detention center where he has been sent for attempting to return a typewriter that he had stolen from his step-father's office. Earlier in the film he had remarks that he has never seen the sea and his mother requested that he be sent somewhere near the coast. So after slipping under the school's fence during a soccer game, he runs toward the beach.

What, to me, is remarkable about this scene, is that he knows he is going to get caught soon after he reaches the ocean. So the point of running wasn't escaping. It was a personal need that drew him to the sea, and we see that everything that happened before had internal motivations none of the authority figures in his life could recognize.

The film ends with a famous shot of his face looking at the camera with an expression that seems to be saying, "I've done it, now what's next?"

The answer to this question we hope will be in the following editions of Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series.


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