I was in Delhi in June 2005, interning with the Businessworld Magazine for a short period, when I heard about the Francois Truffaut festival on at Alliance de Francaise. The good thing about doing a non-law placement is that hours are chill and you can cut from office whenever you want to. The place was full; it was quite surprising to know that there were about 80 other losers in Delhi who wanted to watch an old, foreign, black and white movie with subtitles. 400 Blows turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. The film tells the story of Antoine Dionel, a 13-yr old kid coming to terms with the world around him; he bunks school to go for movies, lies to his teacher that he couldn’t come to school because his mother died!!; steals a typewriter from his father’s office and gets caught when he is trying to place it back etc.
The film is supposedly largely autobiographical, with Antoine’s character based on Truffaut’s early deviant childhood, before Andre Bazin took him into the fold. Antoine even worships Andre Bazin’s photograph and lights a candle in front of it everyday (in one of the scenes, the whole set up catches fire due to his carelessness). The real life story of Truffaut is quite fascinating and makes for good reading. He was one the few who made that impossible transition between the critic to the director. He made his name as one of the early, regular contributors to the Cahier du Cinema, the French magazine started by Bazin, responsible for fostering the theory of the auteur-director (i.e. director is the author of the film).
400 Blows is considered one of his best works and forms the first part of a five film series (I’ve seen Bed and Board and Love on the Run. Made ten years apart, the two follow Antoine through his adult married life, living in a small French house, having a kid, splitting with his wife, having an affair with a Japanese woman, apart from other random things. In fact, Love on the Run seems to be mostly a collage of the beautiful scenes from the four previous movies). The last scene alone in 400 Blows is enough to know the genius of the man. In one of the longest tracking shots that I’ve seen (and certainly one of the best along with the opening shot in the The Touch of Evil and the ones in The Shining), we see Antoine run away from the juvenile home; the camera follows him as he runs off the road, and towards the sea and the film ends with him standing on the shore looking somewhere far off. It is one the most moving films I’ve seen.
The very average The Woman Next Door followed 400 Blows. I don’t remember much of it now; it was about an adulterous affair; a happy family is destroyed from the husband’s long forgotten ex-girlfriend moves into the next house with her husband; old flames are rekindled and the regular stuff happens. Not a shade on 400 Blows.