Wednesday, February 09, 2011

04. Les quatre cent coups (François Truffaut, 1959)

lol, yeah, I really need to train with this countdown of my top 100. My last review for #5 was almost seven months ago. Blimey. So here we are! Number 4.

12-year-old Antoine Doinel just can’t seem to get it right. At home, his mother and father neglect him. At school, all he ever seems to does is get himself into trouble (the French translation of faire les quatre cent coups means to raise hell), and he’s happiest when he’s bunking school, just roaming the streets. He’s not a bad egg by any means, just one who seems to be the unfortunate one who gets caught doing something even though everyone else is (case in point—his classmates pass around a picture of a nude lady, but when the teacher walks in it is he holding it). The film follows his misdemeanours during a few days, which involve his hilariously poor attempts to come up with an alibi for why he doesn’t come into school, as well as well-intentioned plans that result in bigger mistakes—such as starting a small fire, as well as downright plagiarism for a homework task.

The 400 Blows is a touching, witty, but very heartbreaking portrayal of a young lad who is by no means bad or evil-spirited, simply, misunderstood. I found it very easy to sympathize with him, his parents show him very little real affection or love in the film, and any kindness they show him usually have ulterior motives (his mother buys him an extravagant ice cream, but only because she knows he has seen her cavorting with another man and wants to buy her son’s silence). It’s hardly surprising that, with the upbringing (or lack thereof) that he has been given, that he’s prone to doing the odd silly thing.

Jean-Pierre Léaud is insanely good as Antoine, and he would go on to collaborate with Truffaut in four other films about the trouble-attracting protagonist as well as the delightful Day for Night setting off one of the greatest director-actor combos in history. He’s very natural, often it doesn’t even feel like he’s acting, but in the blank, empty look in his eyes is a whole load of unsaid sadness and disillusion of a person wise beyond their years. Similarly, the odd cheeky looks he has in his moments of mischief make for some brilliant comic relief. Here is what is easily one of the child performances in cinema. The transcendent finale features my fourth favourite film scene of all-time wherein he’s been sent to a reform school but he finds the opportunity to escape during a football game, he runs and runs and runs, and comes to the sea. The final scene is Antoine turning and looking into the camera. For that moment, he is free, yet he can go no further.

Often hailed as one of the most prominent pieces to come out of of the French New Wave, The 400 Blows is realism at its gritty, grainy best. Whereas previous films were all about their happy endings and conventional story-telling, Truffaut ventures into new ground with his pseudo-documentary-style here. It was revolutionary at the time, but even now, more than 50 years on, The 400 Blows makes for compelling view, and anyone who’s ever felt disjointed or misunderstood would surely connect with it. There are sequences of utmost hilarity juxtaposed with sadness that hints at the disturbing malaise of truth. I think I first saw The 400 Blows when I was about 15 and I saw myself in the lead character straight away. Almost 6 years on, I still recognize myself in them. There’s really not a lot of films I could say that about, now. A true masterpiece.


Anonymous said...

one of my favorite films

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