Tag: French new wave

Young and Disillusioned in Paris: A Look at Truffaut’s First Film “The 400 Blows”

“I have always preferred the reflect of the life to life itself.”

–    Francois Truffaut

Francois Truffaut’s first film “The 400 Blows” (“Les Quatre Cents Coups”) is the most intensely absorbing coming of age film ever made. It is the story of a school boy (Antoine Doinel) growing up in Paris. His parents and teachers consider him nothing but a troublemaker. The audience gets to see another side to him – when he puts up a poster of Balzac and makes a shrine for him by lighting a candle under his picture. This film has one of the most memorable endings: a shot of him looking straight into the camera. He has just broken free from a detention house, desperately tired; he runs until reaches the sea, caught between future and the past he looks behind and then walks towards the sea. He has never seen the sea before.

Jean-Pierre Léaud plays Antoine Doinel. The striking disillusionment in Léaud’s eyes makes you feel like he is not acting but rather living his life in front of the camera. This film was a start of a long collaboration between  Léaud and Truffaut. He was Truffaut’s Antoine again in a short film called “Antoine and Collette” (1962) and appeared in Truffaut’s three other films, “Stolen Kisses” (1968), “Bed and Board” (1970),“Love on the Run” (1979).

“The 400 Blows” considered being one of the first French New Wave Cinema films. Perhaps one of the elements that make such simple film so excellent would be the fact that its story is influenced by the director’s days as an adolescent. Truffaut dedicated the film to Andre Bazin who helped him to get his life together when he was a young man.

All the events of the movie seem to be there just to add to the impact of the film’s final shot. Film’s hero Antoine lives with his mother and stepfather and is in his early teens. Antoine’s mom, (Claire Maurier), is a blonde young woman who wants to keep away from her family – perhaps frustrated by their poverty, or distracted by an affair with someone from work. The boy’s stepfather, (Albert Remy), is a happy-go-lucky guy who tries to be as friendly as possible with Antoine – although he is not deeply attached to him. Both of his parents are preoccupied with their problems outside of the home and judge him by the terrible school reports.

Antoine’s teacher (Guy Decombie) knows him as a troublemaker and refuses to view him in a different light. He is not lucky either. When students pass a pin-up amongst each other in class, it is Antoine that gets caught with it. The teacher sends him to stand in the corner of the classroom as punishment where he writes a complaint on the wall. So the teacher orders him to wipe it off the wall, this stops him from transcribing tomorrow’s homework, so he skips class. However, he is forced to make an excuse for missing class, so he says his mother is dead. When her mother shows up at school, alive and outraged, he becomes known as a liar.

However, this boy reads Balzac and loves him. He loves him so much that unconsciously writes a part of one of his stories engrained in his memory in his school essay, and gets suspended from school over plagiarism.  From here his life takes a turn for the worst. He steals a typewriter from his stepfather’s workplace with his friend and gets caught and sent to detention house when tries to return it.

The only scene in which Antoine Doinel cries is where he is being driven through the streets of Paris to a detention house from the police station looking out of a barred police wagon– with a thief and three prostitutes.  His parents try to avoid taking him back in their conversations with authorities arguing that he will run away again. We see Antoine pulling up the collar of his jacket to his mouth from the day he gets arrested; we don’t know if Paris has gotten colder or that he feels colder away from his parents and under the care of social services.

However, the film has its fun moments as well. “Les Quatre Cents Coups” or “The 400 Blows” is a French expression which means “raising hell.” In one of the most hilarious scenes of the film, we see a physical education teacher leading a group of students on a morning jog on the streets of Paris. The boys run away two by two behind him until he ends up leading two students without realizing it. Another light moment in the film is when Antoine almost sets their place on fire by lighting a candle in a shrine he has made for Balzac in his bedroom. His parents forgive him, and they all go out to the movies. Antoine is happiest at that scene sitting in the backseat of his stepfather’s car laughing joyfully to his parents’ funny remarks about the film.

Truffaut made “The 400 Blows” when he was only 27 and died too soon at the age of 52 due to brain cancer, taking with himself many great ideas that could be fantastic movies. He made 21 films during his lifetime. However, “The 400 Blows” will always remain an ode to his younger self, fatherless and scared at school and on the streets of Paris. He was Antoine Doinel, and that makes this film so deeply touching.

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Friends Forever: a Look at the Film ” Jules and Jim” 55 Years after its Release

François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim” starts with an excited narration that tells the story of a friendship between two men – one French, one Austrian-. They meet in Paris and become best friends. “Each taught the other his language and culture. They shared an indifference for money.”

The Austrian Jules is unsuccessful at dating. Each of his dates turns out to have a particular flaw that makes him uninterested. He tries to be with a professional, but that won’t work for him either. The whole sequence of Jules trying his luck with different girls gives you this strange feeling that is not what this movie is about and we are in the early stages of getting into a much more complicated story.

Watching “ Jules and Jim” is a nostalgic trip to the times when filmmaking giants like Godard, Resnais and other New Wave cinema directors revolutionized French cinema. The film is François Truffaut’s third (He made “The 400 Blows in 1959 and “Shoot the Piano Player” in 1960). Even though Godard’s films are considered to be very influential in the development of New Wave cinema, “ Jules and Jim” remains to be one of the best examples of a form of filmmaking that refuses to play by the rules. There is something in the movie that appears fresh to the 2017 audience and unthinkable for the audience of 1962. The energy and, life that comes from the screen rekindles the relationship of the audience of today with the silver screen. It is no wonder that Americans copied Truffaut’s style in “ Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) just a few years after the release of “ Jules and Jim”. “ Jules and Jim” and “ Bonnie and Clyde” defined the sixties just to live stealthily in the corner of our minds like a hippie who dressed up in a suit and became a bank clerk in the seventies.

Truffaut’s masterpiece is an adaptation of a novel by Henri-Pierre Roche (1879-1959) who had lived through the events of the story. He was one side of the love triangle between Jules, Jim, and Catherine in real life. Roche wrote “ Jules and Jim” towards the end of his life, but the autobiographical nature of the story makes you feel like it was drafted by a young man, as Roche had to delve into his youth and recollect the moments described in the book. Roche’s Catherine was still alive when the film was released in 1962. She attended the film premiere anonymously and confessed later:” Yes, I am the girl who leaped into the Seine out of spite, who married her dear, generous Jules, and who, yes, shot Jules.”

However, Jim’s (Henri Serre) character does not perish with a shotgun in the movie (although Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) waves a gun to his face once). Truffaut wanted a more tragic ending than a lover wounding her love, taking the audience by surprise after hearing the four vague words of “ Jules, watch us, carefully!” the director leaves his audience shocked.

Jules and Jim are what one might call soul mates. They were made to be best friends. Once when Jules thinks he has found a perfect girl in Therese – just because she considers herself an anarchist and spray paints on the walls- after realizing he cannot find the love of his life in her, he confides to Jim that “ She was both mother and daughter to me.” Jules and Jim go from café to café and tell each other the stories of women who are not exactly what their mad souls desire.

One day they are invited to watch a slideshow of various sculptures, and they both become infatuated with a statue of a beautiful woman with a calming smile. The smiling woman captures their hearts so much that they decide upon a spontaneous trip to the Adriatic to see the statue. After they come back to Paris, they meet Catherine who looks exactly like their beloved icon. Jules becomes close to her and warns Jim that he is not willing to share this girl with him. Jim graciously agrees. They became inseparable. One of the film’s famous shots shows the trio in a rented cottage talking to each other while leaning out of separate windows. One night they go to watch a play, Jules doesn’t like the heroine’s free-spirited persona, Catherine loves it and jumps into the Seine just to show her admirations for her boldness and freedom. It is here that the narrator lets us know that it was her jump that made Jim’s heart weak for her. “ Jules and Jim” is a good example of best use of narration in a film.

Now they are both in love with one woman. World War I breaks out, Jules and Jim fight for different sides – they always fear that they might shoot each other- and Jules takes Catherine to Austria with the intention of marrying her. After the war, Jim goes to visit Jules and Catherine who are now married with a child (Sabine) and live in a cottage near Rheine River. Catherine is not happy. Jules tells Jim that Catherine cheats on him with different lovers. Jules is willing to do whatever it takes to make his Catherine happy. Even if that means sharing her with his best friend. “ If you love her, don’t think of me as an obstacle,” says Jules to Jim generously. Catherine asks Jim to move in with them. Jules contemplates divorcing her so that they could get married. Through all this he still considers Jim to be his best friend. He thinks what they have shared in their youth is so strong that they will survive this. But Catherine does not agree.

“ Jules and Jim,” unlike its name is Catherine’s film. It is an hour and a half of Jeanne Moreau captivating the audience with her stunning performance as Catherine. Her way of showing Catherine’s discontent is brilliant; it is in every inch of her body, it is in her face, it is even in her laughter. Perhaps it is her magic that we aren’t convinced that Catherine’s unpredictability indeed comes from her madness.

Historical aspects of World War I also being showed in this love story – Nazi book burning scenes. Truffaut also uses original newsreels of the war to make the story more believable. The film’s cinematography is as unconventional as it can be even by today’s standards. It is as if camera floats throughout the story. It breaks all the rules of how to shoot a movie set by the Hollywood directors and cinematographers.

The fact that the film goes through the time so quickly is actually one of its strong points. It is precisely as if an old man [Roche] is sitting at a café and goes through his memories to tell this story. It is exactly a trip in Roche’s mind, with happy days of youth floating by and days of sadness fading away in a dark passage.

Roche’s Catherine doesn’t need a psychiatrist to diagnose her of some form of hysteria – like Hitchcock drags a professional into the story to explain Norman Bates’s behavior in Pyscho (1960).Jules and Jim is a story of three friends whom unable to recreate the happy days of youth fall into the claws of sadness. It is one of those rare films that shows the inconsistency of human emotions in the best way possible.