In the 50’s and 60’s controversial French New Wave filmmaker Francois Truffaut challenged both filmmaking and politics in France, eventually changing filmmaking across the world. The year before his first feature film The 400 Blows was critically acclaimed at the 1959 Cannes International Film Festival, he was banned from attending the festival due to his harsh work as a film critic.
It was his frustration with French cinema that led him to film The 400 Blows, which not only garnered critical acclaim but ignited one of the most important movements in film history, the French New Wave.
The 400 Blows took the film world by storm with its bleak realism and rejection of cinematic conventions.
In his career Truffaut showcased his talents not only as a film-maker, but as a screen writer and actor writing Godard’s masterpiece Breathless, starring in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind as well as directing such classics as Day for Night and Jules et Jim.
While writing Godard’s Breathless and directing Jules et Jim, are certainly important parts of his career, nothing reflects his personality and career more than his films centring on Antoine Doinel. Jean-Pierre Leaud played Doinel over a period of 20 years in four feature length films and one short film. Truffaut used Doinel as an alter-ego, a way to deal with his troubled childhood and his life long search for loving parents.
Many notable filmmakers have drawn from their real life experiences to create films but no filmmaker has created a cinematic alter-ego spanning such a time frame and exposing so much of the filmmaker’s life and psyche. Collected in its entirety in Criterion’s The Adventures of Antoine Doinel, this unique set of films are fascinating not only for their quality and visible growth of a filmmaker but the growth of a memorable character as well.
In The 400 Blows, we are introduced to Doinel as a troubled youth acting out in school and home in search for his place in life. His parent’s lack of true compassion and love, leads him to forever search for love and parental acceptance—a theme present throughout this film series. Truffaut returned several years later to the world of Doinel with the short, Antoine and Colette. My personal favourite in the series, Antoine and Colette shows Doinel as a teenager living on his own and working in a record company. His lifelong search for love is first brought to the fore front in the second Doinel outing, as he tries to woo the beautiful Colette as well as her family.
Stolen Kisses and Bed and Board continue Truffaut’s self-reflection and Doinel’s continued misguided search for parental acceptance and love. Love on the Run, the final chapter in the Doinel series, however reflects back at both the series as a whole and in a way the director’s life in clip show fashion.
The 400 Blows remains one of the most iconic and influential films of all time, yet the film is not complete without the continued adventures of Antoine Doinel. With A Week of Truffaut I will discuss the series as a whole as well as each film separately, in hopes of delving into the truths each tells about Truffaut and to spread the word of these wonderful yet under-watched films.