The 400 Blows

Les 400 coups

François Truffaut, France, 1959


François Truffaut put in place a true arrangement to create an emotion both for his actor and the spectator. He films his character in a fixed shot, a big close-up, on a dark background that isolates him well in the field. The comedian must then answer a few questions, in a guided improvisation. Even if we see that the actor’s answers are well inspired by his character (his mother who doesn’t like him, the machine theft, etc.), they haven’t been written, and it is impossible to distinguish what has been suggested by the film-maker from what relies on the actor’s intention, replaced in editing by those of a comedian, the psychologist, who remains off-camera and who we will never see. He clearly wants that something slips away, gets out both from the character and the actor who embodies him. Truffaut filmed a long time (the scene is built in fake sequence shot, with fading in between takes), he asks unexpected questions to his actor, like the one on his sexuality, to unsettle him. It’s a game with the actor, who is not troubled and after a slight hesitation answers unambiguously, but also with the spectator, because the absence of reverse shot puts him face to face with Antoine. The pretended scene at the psychologist’s is in reality a true fake interview of the young 14 year old by the film-maker himself: behind the character of Antoine, through his reactions and spontaneous moves (embarrassed smile, hand moves) it is Jean Pierre Léaud, young boy and junior actor of 14, who comes before our eyes.