Analysis of François Truffaut's "Les Quatre Cents Coups"
In a sense, Truffaut's "Les Quatre Cents Coups", which roughly translates into English as "The 400 Blows", is to La Nouvelle Vague, the French New Wave, like bacon is to a BLT; it is an essential part of any definition of La Nouvelle Vague. The film and its genre are inseparable. You simply cannot have one without the other. Truffaut, along with Jean-Luc Godard, both of whom are the founders of the French New Wave Movement in the cinema, are arguably two of the most iconic French filmmakers of all time.
"The 400 Blows" is a traditional film from the French New Wave movement in the cinema- it follows all its traditional conventions, or it at leasts creates them in a sense. In the French New Wave Movement, there is a heightened importance put upon the idea of "auteur theory", which basically is the idea that the director of the film should be the one that truly creates it. The director should write the piece, direct it, and edit it. He should have complete artistic control over the film, and the film itself should convey the auteur's artistic message.
One of the most distinguishing aspects of the French New Wave is its beautiful cinematography. The French New Wave Movement contains a lot of free flowing shots. The cinematography also had its impressionistic roots. This is especially noticeable in Truffaut's "The 400 Blows". For example, the last shot of the film is a very poetic tracking shot in which the camera follows the boy as he runs towards the sea. This helps highlight the importance of this moment and shows the magnificent scope of the sea in the boy's eyes. There is so much anticipation as the audience waits to see him finally get to the ocean. This is a prime example of cinematography in a film adding to the story as well as being aesthetically beautiful.
The story itself is a very personal tale, which is very like the French New Wave Movement. The story follows a recalcitrant child and the troubles he faces inside and outside his family. The directing and story design in itself is a reflection upon this. We see this world through the boy's eyes in a sense. We see the volatility of his family, which helps justifies why he lashes out. In one scene, the father is the boy's best friend and helps protect him against his mother; whereas, in what seems like a scene later, the father cannot stand the boy and the mom is the only one there to protect him. This story also provides a nice juxtaposition between the boy's family life and his school life. In his family, everything is cramped and compact. There are few additional characters and the set is very small and clustered; whereas, in the classroom, there are a lot of children packed into a moderately opened and heavily structured room.
Through all these tools and many more, Truffaut created a beautiful and smart independent film, which ultimately, helped pioneer the French New Wave Movement in the cinema. He crafted these styles alongside other influential filmmakers, which clearly added to the type of stories he wished to create.