Old Film, New Wave

It’s difficult to imagine the risk François Truffaut took when he made his first feature film, The 400 Blows. For several years, he’d been the harshest critic at the influential film magazine Cahiers du cinema — so harsh that his nickname was “the Gravedigger.” In 1954, he published an article titled “A Certain Tendency of French Cinema” that took shots at almost everyone in the industry, from actors all the way up to producers. But the next year, he made his first short film, “Une Visite,” the prelude to the full-length The 400 Blows, which he said he got the inspiration for after seeing Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil.

The about-face is comparable to Ann Coulter running for office or Perez Hilton starring in a Hollywood film. The 400 Blows should have been panned, but instead it won Truffaut the award for Best Director at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, the very festival from which he’d been banned the year before for being such a pain-in-the-ass. The semiautobiographical story, about a young truant sent away to reform school, is so achingly poignant that no one could deny its beauty, and the cinematography, which clearly learned something from Welles’s long tracking shots through semi-dark streets, immediately advanced the art form.
Thu., May 14, 8:30 p.m., 2009

 
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