1959; directed by François Truffaut; written by Marcel Moussy and François Truffaut; 96 mins
Simon tries, for the fourth time, to like French New Wave and amazingly, it works! Hooray! Middle ground! “Middle ground” being the operative word because, this being a very early entry in the movement, all the intellectualised, formal posturing isn’t in full swing. There is playfulness with the cinematic techniques, such as music edits and voice-over but they are being used in conjunction with the narrative or, like an early scene at the funfair, exploring character.
The narrative is, essentially, Truffaut’s childhood seen though the character of Antoine Doinel, a kid forever in trouble at school and navigating the mood-swings of his insane parents. He has talent as a budding writer but his inability to play by the rules means that his work is seen as forgeries. Along the way, he steals what he can, variously runs away from home and tries to forge his own way through life, away from what all the grown-ups don’t really know they want from him.
The film basically charts the downfall of a misunderstood child; it is, if anything, anti-adult. Antoine is an unwitting victim to the hypocrisies of the adult world, a world dominated by tall people who renege on every rule they impose on children. They preach honesty whilst cheating on each other, they cry conformity whilst demonstrating what awful people conformity creates and they complain about good manners whilst taking every opportunity to physically abuse the kids for the smallest indiscretion. Director Kinji Fukasaku directed Battle Royale to expunge all the hatred he had for grown-ups and it’s easy to see that Truffaut was on the same page. He was hurt over and over again, mentally, emotionally and physically by all the taller people who refused to see the wood for the trees and this film was his way of telling them all to fuck off! Kinda brings to mind Billy Connolly’s many raging routines about the teachers who denigrated him as a child. Well, him and so many other greats, we all know how it works…
Henri Decaë‘s cinematography is gorgeous, with harsh grain and grotty locations giving a sense of a Paris far removed from the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower which features so prominently in the opening credits. The film and it’s characters are on the peripheries, nearing something great or, at least, acceptable but probably not stopping for long.
Jean-Pierre Léaud totally loses himself in the role of Antoine, he commands our attention by simply being a cocky kid who is eager to please but is frustrated and confused by all these temperamental adults. In fact, all the child actors are surprisingly real in this. Truffaut must’ve really had an affinity with them and thus was able to glean a naturalism from them that is rare for that time. They are confident without playing up to the camera, best shown in a wonderful scene showing little kids entranced by a puppet show.
“Every inch I take towards adulthood is a betrayal” – Stephen Fry, aged 16*
*See: Moab is My Washpot