I saw The 400 Blows for the second time without subtitles which was brutal, except that I paid more attention to things like Jean-Pierre Leaud‘s acting tics as he plays Antoine Doinel. He quickly looks away while he’s talking to his mother, scornfully dismissing her. He’s not necessarily that cruel, telling her about his problems at school, a normal frustration for a child that she understands. Or when he’s being interviewed by one of the officials in the youth camp where he’s sent, talking about abortions and prostitutes with frankness or the occasional impish grin. Leaud’s Antoine seems more experienced in life than his character in Masculin Feminin. Director Francois Truffaut is lucky to have found him.
Or the camera work, like when a line of schoolboys get shorter and how half of the adults in the area are so complacent about this as well as towards Antoine’s antics. If only we were schoolboys in Paris too. Antoine’s predicament is unfair since everyone does what he gets repeatedly punished for. Kids should never be treated this barbaric – there’s a racially ambiguous child in this film being fed toothpaste – but how do adults act when a child does bad things again and again?
Or Antoine and his best friend’s costumes. The best friend wears a suit and tie while Antoine wears flannel. The rich one has the ideas and the poor one does the work, thinking their plans are foolproof. I can marvel at the film’s shot compositions while the ghetto side of me comes out and thinks ‘punk ass stillin’ a typewriter, yo!’ I used to meet older Antoines and hear their stories about starting theft under $5000 in middle school. It’s a relief that my generation isn’t the only one who are guilty. I also get angry when he’s being treated badly, but the music calms me, toning my range down to defenseless pity. Melodrama wouldn’t suit a film about Antoine – in spite of oppression he never cries, and he totally can pull that card since he’s young enough. Whether it’s the occasional home troubles, mixed in with happy moments or the downward spiral of the film’s last 25 minutes, the film doesn’t allow for those kind of heightened emotions.
This film is also why you shouldn’t go to theory-based film classes. The first text I got writes something about how Antoine’s final close-up is unsettling, which thanks for the spoiler – and yes, I’m a hypocrite. The ending doesn’t close the plot, but I don’t necessarily see that as unsettling as opposed to showing him as a representative to a generation. Truffaut made sequels for the film, but for now Antoine’s future comes to a stand still.