Tuesday, 7 December 2010

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

No 41 - Les 400 Coups (The 400 Blows)
Director – François Truffaut

So, I've been moving house and I've been playing Xbox games. My blog hasn't exactly been well kept. Like the Secret Garden it is full of aged and overgrown relics. It has seemingly ceased to grow. But fear not, here comes Dickon and he has used a knife to strip back the dead wood and show there is still life in the old blog. So soon we will be joined by a spoiled disabled boy and Wendy from Finding Neverland and the blog will flourish anew.

Right.... that's one massively overstretched metaphor out the way – lets blog this classic piece of French cinema. Without my notes. So expect a sketchy and vague review of a film which follows a young boy's descent into full blown young offender shenanigans.

The film works as series of snapshots, looking at how Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) gets pulled further and further into petty crime. Made in 1959 it coincides with the birth of the teenager and the idea that children were no longer just small versions of their parents. A terrifying concept for those who are the full sized parent versions. Teenagers not only didn't share their parent's views any more, they went out of their way to antagonise.

Whilst Antoine's actions are at times petty, you can at least see where they stem from. Léaud manages to put the anger and frustration of his character across without seeming too petulant, or without seeming unlikeable.

His father is well meaning but distracted by his interests. His mother is the typical terrifying and shouty French mother but then is also cold and distant, not wanting anything to do with her kid (very unlike French mothers that I know). You can see that Antoine feels abandoned... you understand his motivation.

And in today's times, where you can't walk to the shops without being murdered to death by a 7 year old in a hoodie, I suppose it all seems rather twee.

But it was the old days and in the old days Typewriters were the big thing. Like identities are nowadays. Think how annoyed you'd be if someone stole your identity.... yeah, now you know why things pan out the way they do.

The film is constantly interesting and fresh, however, for the most while I failed to see anything truly remarkable in it. Certainly nothing which truly validated its place as the highest ranked French film on the list. However, this is what I love about cinema, one little shot can change everything. A well played reveal or a well shot sequence makes all the difference.

A marvellous sequence is when Antoine is being interviewed by the psychiatrist. It is visibly edited making it seem like documentary footage of a longer interview which has been shortened. The static camera fixed solely on Antoine makes it all seem a lot more real and a lot more authentic. Like a small break from fiction.

But my favourite moment is from the performance Truffaut gets out of his young star. Reaching the end of his tether, Antoine's father arranges for him to spend the night in jail – just to experience what its like. We get some wonderful 'jail eye view' shots with the camera behind bars – and when it pans to Antoine's tear streamed eyes we get the full power of the film in one shot (and in one remarkable performance from such a young lad).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel much the same way about this film. There are powerful bits but I don't love it as a whole.

You may be interested to know that the interview sequence you mentioned was actually footage from Léaud's screen test / audition. The psychiatrist's voice was dubbed over, it was originally Truffaut behind the camera.