The Turning Point of French New Wave
The 400 Blows is a landmark of the French New Wave realism and movement. In a broader term, it marks the emergence of auteur filmmaking. François Truffaut’s film was one of the first to implement the ideas outlined by a group of budding film critics. Directors such as Agnès Varda, Jacques Rivette, and Jean-Luc Godard are largely responsible for writing in the film journal Cahiers du Cinéma. They became New Wave filmmakers along with Truffaut. Moreover, Truffaut’s harsh critics demanded a new style within a tradition of French quality.
Truffaut considers that French cinema is diminishing artistically. French films have been mired in drama and history that are polished but stodgy literary adaptations are boring. With his 1959 debut, he put into practice what he had voiced so passionately in the New Wave confessional. Through his autobiographical construction of Antoine Doinel, he explores his childhood in demonstrations of how a film director is a film writer.
To Awaken Hell
In this modern era, The 400 Blows may seem very common in addition to its realism. It is a coming-of-age in which a young man, driven by his contempt for his parents and general misery as a teenager. He starts to throw a tantrum, gets himself in serious trouble, and decides to run away. The French title, Les quatre cents coups, comes from an expression meaning “to awaken hell.” To the fullest, Truffaut’s film dynamism places himself in mid-1950s France.
The film industry’s complacency led to violent attacks from the writers at Cahiers du Cinéma. However, in 1958, many of those who became filmmakers began to emerge little by little. Godard with Breathless and Resnais with Hiroshima Mon Amour showed the first signs. Changes to the French film industry have arrived. The New Wave would come to represent the dividing movement between modern and classic filmmaking.
Truffaut was born in Paris in 1932. He spent his early years with a nurse and his grandmother. He was eight when returned home and when his grandmother died. An only child whose mother insisted he keeps himself quiet and out of sight. However, he took refuge by reading and watching in the cinema.
Like Antoine, Truffaut found a replacement home in the cinema. He would sneak in through the toilet exit and window. Usually, he steals money to pay for a seat. In The 400 Blows, in addition to Antoine, René reprises the mischief and cinema of young Truffaut and Robert Lachenay. Truffaut captures their touching friendship in René’s failed attempt to visit Antoine at the reform school.
Truffaut ran away from home at the age of eleven like Antoine. He found an outrageous excuse for his trick game. Instead of lying to Antoine about his mother’s death, Truffaut told the teacher that his father had been arrested by the Germans. It was recently revealed that Truffaut’s biological father, whom he never knew, was a Jewish dentist.
He makes the excuse very moving. At the age of eighteen, he met Roland Truffaut, whom he married in 1933. He recognized the child as his property. Antoine’s uneasy relationship with his adoptive father mirrors the director’s relationship. Truffaut senior hands over young François to the police after committing a petty robbery.
Antoine Doinel is a combination of two interesting individuals. Of the sixty boys who responded to an advertisement, Truffaut chose 14-year-old Jean-Pierre Léaud. He desperately wanted the role, an anti-social loner on the verge of rebellion. Truffaut encouraged the boy to use his own words instead of sticking to the script. The result fulfills Truffaut’s goals as it manages to represent a painful experience.
Truffaut does not offer a developmental narrative. However, he offers more of everyday life, mostly known as a slice of life, from Antoine’s point of view. Much like Truffaut, he strives for a realistic portrayal of lower-class youth by shooting on location and with certain dramatic chants. It is the same as New Wave in general. Regardless of which, he considers the order that follows from a bird’s eye view.
The Final Image
For example, students run out of line when the train jumps. He always loses himself in image deception just as Antoine loses himself in an adventure. Camera work is elegant with edits forming loose links between shots to evoke delightful chaos. At one point, he took the audience into a rotating carnival ride for a zoetrope effect. It is shattered when Antoine sees his mother kissing another man. The audience never thought that it would come suddenly.
Chances are, The 400 Blows containing a final image of realism remains one of the vaguest. However, the film stands alone, as Truffaut and his writings were crucial to the launch of the French New Wave. His debut is the work most often associated with the movement beside Jules and Jim in the New Wave spotlight as well. Regardless, he realized the film he and his co-writers had been asking for for years. The film went beyond specific cultural motivations and associations in the movement to become a film that penetrates a wide audience to this day. It is universal yet modern at the same time.
Talking about the realism of The 400 Blows as a whole but briefly, it is not to forget the last shot. The last shot is often praised fairly because of its ambiguity. This brief but haunting release from the harrowing experiences that fill the film brings Truffaut’s successor into direct contact with his audience. There is intimacy but it feels lost and doesn’t know the way home.
Zooming Truffaut to freeze-frame provides a mirror image of the previous shot. For example, when Antoine was arrested by the police. The frozen frame conveys a definitive and permanent way. On a large scale, audiences also know how to view the film as a poetic sign on the wall. Like the Truffaut film, the sea clears the slate at the end but cannot be erased due to an ambiguity of what Antoine and Truffaut find at the end of the beach.