Saturday, March 7, 2009

Day Thirty-Seven: The 400 Blows (1959) - Rank 4.5/5


This was the first François Truffaut film I've seen (unless you count "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"...sorry, bad joke), but it certainly won't be the last. Truffaut has such a keen eye for photography, he makes industrial warehouses and back alleys of Paris seem as gorgeous as the Arc de Triomphe. I love the fact that I found myself mesmerized with the Parisian environs as much as I was with the film's plot. Centered around a troubled youth, Antoine Doinel, we are presented with the "nature vs. nurture" paradox in a spellbinding manner. Doinel causes trouble for his teachers, cuts school, smokes, drinks, steals and runs away from home more than one. Doinel resides with a passive, out-of-work father and a disciplinarian mother, receiving the occasional "heavy-handed" punishment from her, as well as his teachers at school.

Doinel's multiple excursions from home and school provide another aspect to the story - youthful innocence. Living on the streets of Paris, Doinel's spirits buoy, because he sees the entire world as his oyster, so to speak. He can do anything he wants now that he's no longer mired by the rules of his parents - a shortsighted, albeit charming outlook on his own situation. When these voyages are cut short by recapture by his parents or other twists of fate, it makes his tale all the more bittersweet. I have to mention that one of my favorite shots of the film captures another escape of Doinel's. As Doinel runs through the French countryside, Truffaut's camera tracks alongside him for almost two minutes - an awesome and uncustomary shot for the era.

Watching Doinel wage a war for respect, acceptance and freedom, you're left with no clear cut answers as to which side of the debate Truffaut stands on. This ambiguity is the film's brilliance, for neither resolution would seen justified, and of course life certainly isn't so clear-cut either. To me, I see Truffaut's character study as more than just a tale that prompts more questions than provides answers - it sparks debate. And not just between others - I've been going back and forth on where I stand with the film for some time - a sign of a great film.

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