“I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between.” – Francois Truffaut
Read on to discover more about Francois Truffaut and the French New Wave OR go straight to the Top 10 by clicking HERE
For some American audiences the first introduction to Francois Truffaut was his turn as Claude Lacombe in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. For others, who had followed his work in France, he was the writer, director, and producer of many highly influential and critically acclaimed films; and someone who had been an instrumental part of the body of work known as the French New Wave.
Truffaut was born in Paris in 1932. He was drawn to the cinema at an early age largely because of a troubled childhood that saw his parents pass him around various nannies to be looked after. He rarely spent time in the family home, and quickly found a love of books and music, instilled in him from his Grandmother. When she died as Francois turned just ten years old, the cinema became his addiction and his way to escape.
Truffaut quickly fell in love with American cinema. He was in awe of the work by John Ford and Howard Hawks, and the American movies that Hitchcock was making. He met French film critic Andre Bazin in 1948 and, after a brief stint in the French army, was given a role in Bazin’s new publication “Cahiers Du Cinema”.
It was his work for “Cahiers Du Cinema” that changed the French film industry and the film industry worldwide. He was damning in his critical commentary of French cinema, making few friends from the established elite, and developed a new theory that would later be embraced in both Europe and America as the ‘Auteur Theory’. Truffaut believed the director was the ultimate author of his/her work, that the production line of film content was a dying form, and that directors such as Hitchcock had themes and styles that informed every film they made.
Truffaut put his words into practice in the 1950s making a couple of short films. He was inspired by Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil to make his feature-length movie debut with “The 400 Blows”. The film, written, directed, and produced by Truffaut, is seen as one of the greatest debuts of any filmmaker anywhere in the world, and is still thought of as his best work by film critics and cinemagoers alike. It frequents top film polls, is regarded as the best example of French New Wave film, and is one of the most influential movies to be put to celluloid.
Tell me more about French New Wave cinema
You only have to look at Truffaut’s writings for Cahiers Du Cinema to learn about the French New Wave’s ultimate goal. Truffaut spoke about how directors held a god-like vision over their work, that it was ultimately an exhibition of the personal, much like a painting is the single vision of the painter. Truffaut was anti-establishment and challenged the elite at every turn, finally being banned from the Cannes Film Festival for his damning criticism of the French film industry. Ironically, he would return one year later to win best film with The 400 Blows.
French New Wave cinema challenged long-held beliefs of film form. Editing, visual style, and the narrative make-up of films was drastically altered, with filmmakers drawing on Italian neo-realism to create distorted yet documentary-like films that embraced the youth movement of the age and purveyed messages of social and political upheaval.
What made Cahiers Du Cinema and Bazin so influential was not only Truffaut’s standing and the films he made, but others from the publication’s stable of writers. Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, and Claude Chabrol were all film critics at one time or another for the magazine.
Although The 400 Blows is generally considered the best film born during the French New Wave, Godard’s Breathless shared the same international success as Truffaut’s film.
The low-budget and the realism these films portrayed directly influenced the American New Wave during the 1970s.
Much of what we see in Hollywood’s cinematic revolution (or the “New Hollywood”) of the 1970s can be directly sourced back to the movies of the French New Wave; for example, the low-budgets used in production and the realism seen in the storytelling technique. Other aspects that were considered unheard of before the French New Wave were the unique editing techniques brought about in no small part by the miniscule budgets – cross-cuts, handheld photography, very long takes, breaking of the fourth wall. On-location shooting also became popular because it was cheap to set-up and gave the film an instant appeal with audiences craving a realistic approach. Remember the scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall when he addresses the audience directly – this was an idea originally developed by French New Wave filmmakers. This breaking down of convention, gleefully deconstructing the divide between audience and film, was a significant attribute of the filmmaker’s vision. There was no attempt to suspend the audience’s disbelief only a deliberate ploy to remind the viewer what he/she was watching was a series of moving images.
Francois Truffaut’s shining achievement and the best of the New Wave
Although much of Truffaut’s work deserves attention, there was only one film for number 1 spot in our top 10 Francois Truffaut films. That film is of course The 400 Blows.
The film is semi-autobiographical, drawing on Truffaut’s early life of petty crime and anti-authoritarianism, depicted through Antoine (Jean-Pierre Leaud), the young Parisian boy who can’t seem to avoid trouble.
Roger Ebert comments in his review of The 400 Blows that cinema saved Francois Truffaut in that it took a delinquent boy and gave him something to live for, to aspire for, and to love. That is the source of the tragedy and the joy of Antoine in the film. James Berardinelli comments, “Even though more than forty years have elapsed since the film’s release, its effect has neither faded nor been duplicated. By eschewing manipulation and sentimentality, Truffaut does not invite false emotions and insincere pity.” Instead, Truffaut displays Antoine with all his “faults and foibles on display.” He continues, “Truffaut’s style is so honest, we develop a deeper connection with Antoine that we would have in a traditional melodrama. And, when that final shot occurs, leaving Antoine suspended in time, with his future uncertain, our reaction is unforced.”
Richard Propes, the Independent Critic says, it is a “mind-blowing and essential film”, while Village Voice critic Nick Pinkerton calls it a “remarkable confluence of talents”.
The 400 Blows would win numerous awards, winning Best Director at 1959’s Cannes Film Festival. Truffaut also won the critics prize in New York that same year, and was nominated for an Oscar for the film’s screenplay.
For in-depth discussion and an exhausting library of information about French New Wave cinema point your browser towards New Wave Film HERE
For an interesting biography on Francois Truffaut, and a discussion of his influence on cinema, please take a look at film critic Juan Carlos’ article at Senses Of Cinema HERE.
1. The 400 Blows (1959) Les Quatre Cents Coups | Buy on DVD from Amazon.co.uk
2. Day for Night,(1973) La Nuit Américaine
3. Jules and Jim, (1962) Jules et Jim | Buy on DVD from Amazon.co.uk
4. Stolen Kisses (1968) Baiser Volés | Buy on DVD from Amazon.co.uk
5. Shoot the Pianist (1960) Tirez sur le Pianiste | Buy on DVD from Amazon.co.uk
6. The Bride Wore Black (1967) La Mariée Était en Noir
7. Soft Skin (1964) La Peau Douce | Buy on DVD from Amazon.co.uk
8. Two English Girls, (1971) Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent
9. The Last Metro, (1980) “Le Dernier Métro” | Buy on DVD from Amazon.co.uk
10. Farenheit 451 (1965) | Buy on DVD from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the The Francois Truffaut Collection – 6 Disc Box Set from Amazon.co.uk. The boxset includes 1. The 400 Blows (Les 400 Coups) 2. Shoot the Pianist (Tirez Sur Pianiste) 3. Jules and Jim (Jules Et Jim) 4. Anne and Muriel (Les Deux Anglaises) 5. Finally, Sunday ! (Vivement Dimanche) 6. The Woman Next Door (La Femme D’a Cote) CLICK HERE to go straight to the item