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Film 50: History of Cinema: The Cinematic City

Wednesday, March 6, 2013
3:10 p.m. The 400 Blows
François Truffaut (France, 1959)

Lecture/Marilyn Fabe


(Les 400 coups). If François Truffaut had never made another film, The 400 Blows would have earned him an enduring place in film history. Its semiautobiographical story of a lad who is unwanted by his parents, bored by school, and attracted to petty crime is told with an energetic blend of anarchy and rigor, the kind of unsentimental lyricism that was to become Truffaut’s trademark. As a portrait of adolescence, it is still unmatched in cinema; as a portrait of Paris through a young boy’s eyes, it is a thoroughly unromanticized picture of cramped apartments, cold schoolrooms, and the narrowing confines of the streets. Even snowballs have stones in them. Jean-Pierre Léaud, in his first appearance as Truffaut’s alter ego Antoine Doinel, reflects the strange sobriety of watchful youth. Truffaut’s real-life ordeal went far beyond that of Antoine, who escapes incarceration to a moment of truth by the sea. Truffaut escaped into art.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Truffaut, Marcel Moussy. Photographed by Henri Decaë. With Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Guy Decomble. (99 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, ’Scope, 35mm, From Janus/Criterion Collection)