The 400 Blows

Les 400 coups

François Truffaut, France, 1959


In this scene, fiction temporarily stops to enable us to observe, in real time, the effects of a fair ride on a body in a tight space, that of Jean Pierre Léaud, who plays the character of Antoine. It is a very tight arrangement for the cameraman, who can only film from two axes, either from on top, using a bird’s eye point of view or that of inside the machine, attached with ropes to the tub. The camera barely moves, it is the rotor itself that drives the rhythm and the movement, apart from a little bit of reframing to get closer to Antoine, to catch the emotions and feelings expressed by his face, or through his uncontrolled moves: the impatience and enjoyment first, his pleasure at being able to play and experiment (raising his arms, being upside down), then discomfort, and borderline suffering, when his body is subject to a force way too large for him and he fails in his vain attempts to avoid the pull of gravity (he closes his eyes, scratches his head…). The alternating shots of Antoine from a bird’s eye pov, then the reverse angle shot on the spectators’ faces makes us enter in the character’s subjectivity and enables us to feel a range of effects: rapid editing, a jumping image that blurs, confused sounds, a mixture of mechanical noises and shouts, which combine to create a loss of bearings and a slight dizziness for the spectator. The heart of this arrangement creates images recalling the praxinoscope, some of which, intriguingly, are like insect-bodies, printed on the film, in which we see François Truffaut himself: he is one of the participants on the ride, alongside his main character, who comes staggering off the machine.