‘The 400 Blows’, the autobiography of Truffaut

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Jean-Pierre Léaud gave life to his alter ego, Antoine Doinel, with whom he continued to make films as he aged

It has always been said that most directors tell their own story for their first film, especially at very defining moments in their lives. And the great prototype of this kind of first films was ‘The 400 coups’, the autobiography that François Truffaut made about his youth, in which he discovered his alter ego Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) with whom he spent years and films.

François Truffaut was born in Paris on February 6, 1932. Recognized in the registry office as the son of Roland Truffaut, architect and decorator, he will never know his real father. His mother was Jeanine de Montferrand, a secretary at the newspaper L’Illustration. François Truffaut studied at the Rue Clauzel school and at the Rollin secondary school, although he was never an exemplary student. From 1939, the young Truffaut, a passionate reader, also spends his life in the cinema, sometimes during the hours when he should be in class. From 1946, after he left his studies, he survived with small jobs, founded a film club in 1947 and was sent to a penitentiary for several thefts.

Thanks to film critic André Bazin, François Truffaut gets to work with Travail et Culture. He writes his first articles in 1950. After enlisting in the army, he is sent to Germany, but deserts and spends time in military prison. Truffaut published reviews in Cahiers du Cinéma from 1953, showing himself highly critical of the French cinema of the time and passionate about the great masters of American cinema. In 1954 he directed his first short film. In 1956 he is assistant director to Roberto Rossellini. A year later he directed his short film ‘Los golfillos’. And in 1958 he filmed ‘The Four Hundred Blows’, which would become a spectacular success and serve as a letter of introduction to the world of the Nouvelle Vague movement, which he leads with Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jean-Luc. Godard.

Truffaut writes the script himself from his childhood memories, and made a virtue of necessity, because with barely a budget he managed to film most of it outside. The plot doesn’t differ much from Truffaut’s own childhood, but the director uses humor and a lot of sensitivity to bring a youth into the open. The main character is a mixture of the personalities of Truffaut and Léaud himself, who will accompany the director and the character for decades in several films in which we will see the character grow up, fall in love and mature.

Antoine Doinel, 12 years old. he lives in Paris as a loner in his own house. His parents have unresolved marital problems. The child was born unwanted and constantly breathes this hostility, having to accept one blow after another that life inflicts on it, feeling more and more misunderstood and unhappy. Once he is sent out of class for a week. At that moment, Antoine contemplates realizing one of his greatest dreams: to see the sea, which he does not know. To achieve this, he plans to join a friend in a robbery at the company where his father works and then escape to the coast, and they do. After a series of police and psychiatric interrogations, Antoine is admitted to a penitentiary. The title refers to a French expression (“faire les quatre cents coups”), the translation of which could be “make a thousand and one”, which refers to all of the character’s transgressions in the film, although it also plays with the strict meaning of expression, that is, with the sheer number of blows that life inflicts on the protagonist.

Shot in Paris in 1958, with shots and scenes that Truffaut had thoroughly rehearsed, the film opened at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Best Director award. Truffaut dedicates the film to the man who became his spiritual father, André Bazin, who died just as the film was about to start shooting. After Cannes, it becomes an impressive success and thoroughly renews the stagnant French cinema of the time, based on the theoretical approaches propagated by a group of critics of Cahiers du Cinema. The film premiered on June 3, 1959 in Paris and soon reached the world. It arrives in Spain, duly censored, on August 28, 1960.

Truffaut will continue to tell the story of Antoine Doinel as Jean-Pierre Léaud grows up, in successive films, already much further removed from the director’s vital adventures: an episode of ‘Love at 20 Years’, ‘Stolen Kisses’, ‘Marital home ‘ with Claude Jade in the role of Christine, girlfriend and wife of Doinel and ‘Love on the Run’.

Source: La Verdad

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