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Dec 6, 2012


The 400 Blows

I was recently watching François Truffaut’s revered 1959 film The 400 Blows, a heavy-hearted character study of a 12-year-old Parisian boy who skips school, mixes with the wrong crowd and gets in trouble with the fuzz as his relationship with his parents slowly splinters. Celebrated for a unforgettable final shot in which the boy runs towards the ocean then turns and gazes directly at the camera, as if reaching out to the viewer in some undefinable gesture for help, the film assisted in defining the archetypal narrative for ‘wrong side of the tracks’ drama.

Before arriving at this moment Trauffaut presents several beautifully framed sequences that shift his vérité bread-and-butter style direction into dream-like territory. In one of them the kid, protagonist Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud), is locked in a divvy van and being taken to a rehabilitation centre for juvenile delinquents. As it glides through Paris at night, the streets illuminated by incandescent signs of shops and theatres and the glow of headlights, Antoine stares indecipherably at the road behind him, a tear rolling down his cheek as he clutches the bars of the back window, as if attempting to hold on to the past.

It didn’t hit me the first time I watched this film, back in my university years, but it sure hit me the second. Not a realisation of what the scene was about or what it stood for but a meaning outside it, in my own past. A memory. And with that, into the hot tub time machine we go…

My family had several pets over the years I grew up but Butch, our Jack Russell, was different. He was a great pal. I adored him. When friends and family came over we often showed them a trick where one of us would throw a tennis ball over the agapanthus in the backyard and Butch would leap after it, his arse flicking up ridiculously towards the sky. It never failed to amuse. Continue reading “Movies of the mind: When I used films to travel through time”