Tag Archives: François Truffaut

XL Popcorn – The 400 Blows

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 612/1007
Title: The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups)
Director: François Truffaut
Year: 1959
Country: France

I swear, films are like busses. I watch them sparingly for a while and then suddenly I am devouring them. It’s been a long time since I have had both the appetite and the opportunity to watch so many movies. Long may this continue as, otherwise, I will be doing this list for another 10-15 years.

So here I am back in the world of French cinema with one of the most acclaimed French films of all time by one of France’s most acclaimed directors. Not necessarily a guarantee of my enjoyment, but it payed off in this instance.

The 400 Blows is the first in, what ended being, a series of films chronicling the life of Antoine Doinel. At this point he is about 14-15 years old and later films (which all feature the same actor in the role) see him well into adulthood. This still remains the most acclaimed, however, as it is a film that helped usher in the style of French New Wave cinema and helped to make a star out of child actor Jean-Pierre Léaud.

To say that the whole fill hangs on the performance of Léaud is an understatement. Everything around him functions well, but it is his performance as the delinquent adolescent that carries the whole thing. For me, the scene that epitomises his strength in this film is where he is talking to a child psychiatrist. Shoulders up, he projects some confidence but it’s his actions with his arms that demonstrate just how nervous the character is. This could just be happenstance, but it really reinforces his vulnerability.

In essence, The 400 Blows is about a neglected boy acting out. He was never wanted by his mother (and she lets him know this) or by his stepfather. Thanks to this and a bunch of other circumstances Antoine runs away from home, steals and ends up in a juvenile detention centre.

Rather than dumping all the details of Antoine’s neglect early in the film, we learn more and more as we watch. At the beginning it just seems like he is a naughty boy and even as Antoine’s behaviour deteriorates Léaud is still able to generate that much-needed sympathy of someone who has been failed on multiple counts.

Whilst I won’t be including it in my list of best films ever this was still an interesting watch and a good marker for when that French New Wave movement began. I know I am not entirely in the position to compare, but if I had to pick between a Godard or Truffaut film it would be Truffaut all the way.

XL Popcorn – Jules and Jim / Red River

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim)
Director: François Truffaut
Year: 1962
Country: France

Jules and Jim is one of those big French classics that I have been waiting to watch for a long time. I know that this is a phrase I mention quite often, this waiting to see a film rather than just see it when I can, but I have a fear that should I just watch the films I want to see then the final stretch of the 1001 list will become intolerable.

Previously I have seen it two other films by Francois Truffaut (“day for night” and Shoot the Piano Player) and those were a mixed bag for me. I know that Jules and Jim is up there as one of the best films of all time. Maybe it was the build up to this but I found this film disappointing.

One thing that I was able to appreciate is just how many films have taken elements from this. Most notably the narration which made me feel like I should watch Amelie again because it really has been a long time. I’ve also seen this film described as being an encyclopaedia of cinematic shots by combining tracking, dolly, freeze frame, archive and many other types of filming. It is true that this makes this film interesting watch, but I just could not get on board with the characters.

Being released in 1962 Jules and Jim was part of a creative explosion that was trying to get away from previous ways of shooting a film. Cleo from 5 to 7 was another example of this and I adored that film, mainly because of the very interesting central character. Catherine, on the other hand, is a character that really bothered me.

We are all agreed that the modern trope of the “manic pixie dream girl” needs to stop because she is not a realistic character. I would lump in Catherine is a rather cruel representation of a woman. Or maybe she is just meant to have some sort of mental troubles. It is hard to deny that possibility by the time the film reaches its conclusion.

I just felt rather sorry for Jules in all of this. He himself knows that no matter how badly Catherine treats him he will never leave her. I mean, he was happy to get divorced from Catherine and let her marry his best friend just so that she could still be in his life. I want to say it’s pathetic, but she lets him live in hope. It’s cruel.

I guess I just expected a whole lot more from this film. Especially how it ended as that did not feel like a logical course of action for the characters to take.

redriverTitle: Red River
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1948
Country: USA

When you take spaghetti westerns out of the equation Red River is one of those names that you see amongst the best westerns. Now, thanks to the 1001 list I have changed my mind about the western genre. Films like The Ox Bow Incident and Rio Bravo rank amongst some of my top films. However, western is a genre like any other meaning that you can’t like them all (hell, I would rate animation is my favourite type of film but I have sure seen some awful animated movies).

Red River has a lot to live up to seeing that it is directed by Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo, Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings and His Girl Friday”) and stars John Wayne, Walter Brennan (always adorable) and a stunning Montgomery Clift. I know that there’s a lot about this film that I should like, but it actually found it rather dull.

It’s one those films that I would expect Hank Hill from King of the Hill to rank highly on his list of favourites. It is a true man’s film with cowboys, guns, native Americans, aggression and the stupid posturing that can take place between a father and his adopted son. Considering all the crap everyone has to go through to finish the cattle drive that ending just felt a little bit weak. Scratch that, incredibly weak.

Like with Jules and Jim I think that I have missed the point somewhere along the line of watching this film. Or it was very possible that my own issues have clouded my view (like how I have no sympathy for Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler). Then again cinema allows for this subjectivity and that is what I love about it. I know that there’ll be people who think the idea of Red River being boring is akin to blasphemy, but I feel the same way about anyone who downplays the majesty of Sunset Boulevard.

Oh well at least it wasn’t harrowing in any way… that poor chicken in Pink Flamingos still haunts me.

Progress: 554/1007

XL Popcorn – La Nuit Américaine

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 429/1007La nuit americaineTitle: Day For Night (La Nuit Américaine)
Director: François Truffaut
Year: 1973
Country: France

It is not unusual for the world of cinema to turn the camera on itself and make a movie about making movies. It is a well trodden path with the likes of Singin’ In The Rain and 8½ having come before it. However, I can say very easily that La Nuit Américaine is the best film that I have seen on the subject.

Unlike most other movies of this subject area the great thing about this is that… there is no real story to it other than the shooting of the fake film Meet Pamela, a regular film and not one that is destined to become a classic or one where everything falls apart.

In fact, it feels like a proto-mockumentary film at times with you viewing the ups and downs of a film shoot and how the director has to navigate his way through. Yes, the film does deal with some major issues such as emotional breakdowns and death, but some of the real highlights come from the simpler interactions and the lighter moments.

I know I am showing my inner internet geek here… but one of the best moments for me involved the repeated takes in order to have a shot of a cat drinking from the saucer of a tray. In many ways, this will have been one of the easier shots because you WANT the cat to mess up. It’s up there with many of the scenes involving the insane knitting wife of the production assistant.

At the heart of things is a meditation on the importance and the artificially of film life (with the title La Nuit Américaine referencing a techinque of shooting footage in daylight so it looks like night time). However, it takes these things in its stride and emerges a light yet thoughtful film, a very hard tightrope to walk.