The 400 Blows
BAMPFA Student Committee Pick
Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Guy Decomble,
If François Truffaut had never made another film, The 400 Blows would have earned him—and Jean-Pierre Léaud, in his first appearance as Truffaut’s alter ego Antoine Doinel—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. As Antoine, Léaud 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.