Every semester, Emory University hosts a cinematheque with a distinct theme. Each Wednesday at 7:30pm, the campus opens its lecture auditoriums to the public and shows a film for free. This semester the theme is “French New Wave,” which, if you know anything about French or film, you know that La Nouvelle Vague defined alternative films in the 50’s and 60’s, parting the sea for modern movie makers.
Last night, the Whitehall lecture auditorium at Emory was packed with francophiles and cinephiles to see Truffaut’s Les 400 Coups, or The 400 Blows. My friend and co-worker, Sarah, who earned her Master’s in Film Studies at Emory, said that there normally were not as many people, and that there was such a large crowd for this one because it was one of the more famous films.
Created in 1959, this film follows a kid with issues through his life and how he ended up in petty crime, ultimately leading to juvenile detention. Honestly, as two teachers, it hit a little close to home for Sarah and I, especially when the kid is behaving badly in school and the teacher tells him to “stand in the corner.” Ha. How drastically times have changed since the innocent 1950’s school days. If I told a kid to stand in the corner, not only would I get cussed out by the kid, but the parent would be as well!
But really, although that part was funny and completely opposite to what we deal with in the classroom, the kid’s life was easily comparable to some of the kids we have in school. Society changes, but not too much. We can still pick out the patterns and paths that kids will follow thanks to their home lives. This being said, who is the real criminal? The 14 year old who feels unloved, the teacher who is misunderstanding, the mom who is too hard on him, or the dad who doesn’t care?
The New Wave producer and co-writer, Francois Truffaut captured his autobiography in Les 400 Coups. Yes–it was about himself! The name itself Les 400 Coups, literally means “The 400 Blows” but in French it is an expression for “raising hell.” The main character, Doinel, certainly raises hell by lying, running away from home, and ultimately stealing a typewriter.
The film is interesting in that the audience really feels for Doinel, the main character. I really started to understand why he would cut class, or steal money from his mom, or run away from home. Although all his actions were immature and reckless, I somehow cheered for him to get through all the hell and be an awesome person. Of course, he ends up in juvenile detention, which is supposed to help, but he escapes. When he crawled under the fence to get out, part of me was jeering him on to be free from the tyrannical pull of the adults in his life, while the other part was sorely disappointed at how he was throwing his life away. So who is the criminal now? Him? Or everyone else?
The end scene is one of the most famous canonical images in the Western world. Doinel runs away and is running on the beach–just running, until he looks straight into the camera, leaving closure completely open-ended.
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See you at the next film!