The 400 Blows

The 400 Blows

François Truffaut’s film The 400 Blows (or Les Quatre Cents Coups) falls under the category of art cinema; its style and form can be understood by way of an understanding of the conventions or anti-conventions of the art film model. Truffaut’s treatment of story, character, image, and space conform to the generally recognized set of characteristics that typify the genre. In the film the life of the protagonist, Antoine Doinel, accords with the filmmaker’s conscious attempt at creating a film that challenges commonly held notions of narrative, character, and style. As such, Les Quatre Cents Coups is a film in which the central character’s motives are ambiguous, narrative events are loosely connected, and degrees of closure are limited. These characteristics will later form the basic structure of the art film model and can be used to understand the film and art films, in general.
An understanding of Les Quatre Cents Coups proves a difficult task without some understanding of the French New Wave, an influential film movement falling roughly between 1959 and 1964. During this era, directors such as: Godard, Chabrol, Truffaut, sought to produce films with a casual style and ambiguous but psychologically developed characters; these directors were opposed to studio filmmaking and the norms of “classical style” and story, which promoted narrative clarity and unity. According to James Monaco, the “aesthetic of the New Wave cinema was improvisational and its photography and editing were far less mannered than its predecessors” (Monaco). Truffaut’s attempt to grapple with the “poetry of childhood” in the story of Antoine Doinel is replete with the methods of the New Wave. Doinel’s psychological tension becomes the focus of the camera; Truffaut maps out a world which holds as its nucleus a single protagonist. Doinel is centered upon but never treated with overt sentimentality. He exists within the film’s form and frame but manages to transcend those elements which seek to...

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