The camera tracks Antoine Doniel as he runs away from a juvenile detention facility, his parents and every other force telling him what to do. His journey ends at the waterfront where he stops and pivots to the camera. He looks right at the audience as if to ask, “Where the hell am I going?”
Francois Truffaut directed The 400 Blows in 1959, which received a Cannes award for best director. Truffaut was a French film critic turned director. Before his film criticism, Truffaut was delinquent child, and it is upon those experiences that inspired this movie. In many ways, The 400 Blows, and its sequels, are quasi-autobiographical of the director’s life.
The story’s protagonist is a young French boy, Antoine Doniel, and the story follows his precipitous descent into childhood delinquency and disillusionment with authority. He discovers the caprice of justice when his teacher catches him with a burlesque photo that was passed around the room.
His punishment-and a peer’s influence-convinces Antoine to cut class, at which point he discovers his mother having an affair. After an unsuccessful attempt at running away, Antoine’s mother tries to bribe him to keep his mouth shut. It’s really at this point that Antoine loses all faith in authority and begins his decline.
Jean-Pierre Leaud plays Antoine in 400 Blows. He reprises the role of Antoine Doniel in Love at Twenty (1962), Stolen Kisses (1968), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979). Other than the Doniel pentalogy, Leaud has starred in over 80 films in his half century of acting.
The 400 Blows is a unique window into world history. Antoine is an obvious precursor to the celebrated misbehavior of characters like Marlon Brando in Wild One and Bart Simpson. Antoine’s parents are among the first in the 20th century who procreated out of habit, rather than desire. Their disinterest in his life is prophetic of my generation, where parents prescribe away bad behavior, or blame television before bad parenting.
The hardest part of the movie to grasp was when students universally respected the authority of public school teachers. Back then students were punished for tardiness or dishonesty. Today, detention is hesitantly issued for swearing to a teacher’s face.
Tonight at 3:30 and 7 p.m., Dr. Pease will be showing Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low. Kurosawa has been my favorite director during the last three years of this film series.
The film series concludes the Tuesday with two showings at 3:30 and 7 p.m. in the Evans Complex room 105.