|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on March 19, 2011 at 9:33 PM|
And we're down to number four. Here we go...
#4 - The 400 Blows FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT, 1959
The 400 Blows is one of the most famous films from the enormously influential French New Wave. But where so many of the movement were rejecting conventional cinematic stylings for overly ambitious, esoteric radicalism (ahem, Godard), Truffaut was making movies that felt fantastically modern while still remaining grounded in old-fashioned humanism. The clear best, for me, is his brisk 1959 coming of age tale, about a young teenage boy who revels in deliquency and petty crime. In many ways, and not only aesthetically, the film represents the burgeoning rebellious streak a new generation of kids were starting to seize upon in an otherwise staid 1950s, a theme that would be clearly and abundantly elaborated upon throughout the height of 1960s cinema.
The film is imbued with the risk-taking, breathless wonderment of childhood, but balances it precariously on the rocky edge of adolescence and soon, the impending responsibilities of adulthood. Truffaut wrings a beautifully natural performance from the brilliant Jean-Pierre Léaud, navigating him through passionate juvenile ecstasies and then through brutally dispiriting punishments, a set of ups and downs no rollercoaster could match. What we ultimately see, though, is a curious child whose own dabblings in troublemaking and thievery conceal a tender confusion, someone lost between the naivete of childhood and the perplexing adult rules that are enforced without compassion. His actions are not to be dismissed, but Truffaut is more concerned with how they are, by a society that simply doesn't know how to deal with them.
Everything about The 400 Blows is perfect. The chalky black and white cinematography is lived-in, the use of 2.35:1 aspect ratio rendering the ordinary positively cinematic. Movement of the camera is both classically simple and technically innovative, while the editing keeps a kinetic pace that seems all the more broken when the somber reality kicks in. Finally, the ending, a breathtaking culmination of the film's shattering verisimilitude, a long, steady tracking shot that follows our protagonist Antoine as he runs, and runs some more, stopping only when he cannot physically go further. The final freeze frame is one of the great closing shots in movies, a plea to the viewer seen through the vulnerable eyes of a child ignored by those whose job it was to raise him. If it sounds overly sentimental, it's not; what might have been an average coming of age story is left dangling at its bare threads, haunted and without a clear future. Kind of like life.
Categories: My Top 10 of All Time