Riding the Wave: François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows”
Explore the power of the French auteur’s semi-autobiographical classic.
By Q.V. Hough | May 30, 2018
What defines French New Wave cinema? For some, it might be the jump cuts, freeze frames and existential dialogue that stylized the movement as a whole. Still, "La Nouvelle Vague’s" most influential filmmakers of the late 50s and early 60s weren’t necessarily attempting to revolutionize modern cinema. Well, at least that’s the case for François Truffaut, a former juvenile delinquent and writer for Cahiers du Cinéma, a respected film criticism magazine that employed future filmmaking icons like Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Éric Rohmer. In 1959, utilizing his knowledge of classic French cinema and lesser-known American films, and drawing on his personal history, Truffaut released his feature debut The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups). It's a film that blends style with substance, and directorial polish with narrative heart. This video essay pays homage to the spirit of the The 400 Blows—and Jean-Pierre Léaud’s tour de force lead performance—while examining how Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical character finds solace in cinema and his own imagination, thus shaping his worldview and inspiring a great adventure.