[Join Ettes leader and Fond Object founder Coco Hames as she moves through the Janus Films Essential Art House DVD box set one film at a time.]
THE 400 BLOWS directed by FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT (1959)
Running time: 99 minutes
In French with subtitles
Many an art house film fan was introduced to The 400 Blows by some vague and all-encompassing entry level film course (that guy had booze in his travel coffee cup), or else by their jerky artsy boyfriend (what was I thinking), or maybe TCM busted it out. Maybe I even went looking for it (I can't remember). But it's hard to write about The 400 Blows because it is arguably the most widely known film of the French New Wave, and a major part of the life of the lover of cinema. What's there to say?
Well, François Truffaut was 27 years old when he dropped The 400 Blows on the world, featuring a protagonist who was the director's pint-size alter ego, so young that adolescents that very same age were not allowed to see the film. It is a portrait of the artist as a street punk, typewriter thief, defiant delinquent and budding intellectual cinephile — all things Truffaut was when he was one of the coolest kids who ever walked the planet. It is indelibly human, which makes it so relatable, which is why this film, and Truffaut in general, have a permanent place in my heart.
Antoine Doinel (played forever by Jean-Pierre Leaud) is a 12-year-old boy in Paris having a rough go of it, at home, in school, and in life. He witnesses and reacts to very real things with his parents and classmates, and we watch him navigate his world, make his own decisions (not all them good, nor all them his fault), all the while being sensitive, trying to think large and poetically, observing all the time.
For fans of Antoine who aren't aware, he lived a kind of parallel-universe version of Truffaut's life in a series of later films — all charming, to varying degrees, but never quite matching what you'd hope for that kid frozen in time at the movie's end. There is a collection of movies featuring the character as he grows up, falls in love, and gets married called The Adventures of Antoine Doinel, comprised of the "Antoine and Colette" segment of the anthology film Love at Twenty (1962), Stolen Kisses (1968), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979). The Adventures of Antoine Doinel collection is available via our buddies at Criterion.