The four hundred blows (1959): reflection on an inescapable and liberating classic

August 1, 2020 by No Comments

Education and family

This debut feature by the French director François Truffaut, with which he inaugurated the Nouvelle Vague (an auteur cinema with greater freedom of expression in writing and directing), is a subtle work, nothing extraordinary, insightful… inescapable and liberating. It is not only an ode to a more open and original cinema, but it is also an apology for spontaneity, childhood and, why not, a criticism of its criminalization and alienation.

It is not only an ode to a more open and original cinema, but it is also an apology for spontaneity and childhood.

Other French film will come later with the same theme, relating education and family, and portraying the latter as closed and disciplinary institutions that are responsible for composing a productive force. But The four hundred blows will continue to be an indelible classic to which it is always good to return.

A caged childhood

The young protagonist of The Four Hundred Beats, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), reads Balzac’s work La Recherche de l’Absolu ( The Search for the Absolute ). I consider that beyond being an autobiographical account of the director, this mention of the French novelist cannot pass for a simple anecdotal fact. Perhaps, here the grace is not to look for the chimerical answer of alchemy, but we can suppose that what surprises the little Antoine Doinel in the film is (“Eureka! I have it!”): To realize his condition as a child, full of courage, fearlessness, power and intelligence, to seek a new beginning. It may not be a direct revelation, but it is a constant thing that turns, which finally ends up taking him away from school and his family.

It is society that builds its own concept of criminal or delinquent, and liberated childhood is nothing more than a deviation to which limits and norms must be imposed.

Doinel (who is none other than Truffaut’s alter ego ) goes beyond the novel, since the character of Balzac’s work succumbs towards the end in search of his goal, unlike in the film, where the boy overcomes the obstacles that are imposed on him and, with cunning and agility, he runs towards his freedom (with an unforgettable traveling). He runs towards the sea. Perfect metaphor that the French director uses to show us how his character confronts the horizon of the future, which may be openly fearful, but worth it.

Balzac’s work –which integrates the Philosophical Studies of his monumental work Human Comedy- refers to human energy (which in my opinion focuses on amazement and, therefore, is projected from the power of puericia), as something finite that in the world is spent more and more on banal things, very common to being modern, things that end up consuming human intelligence, many of which are limited to the fulfillment of a type of order: social, educational, religious, etc.

Antoine Doinel is criminalized and interned because of his picaresque games that, instead of being empathetic, are almost immediately tried.

This contemporary world haunts and overshadows childhood. According to the most basic sociology, it is society that constructs its own concept of criminal or delinquent, and liberated childhood is nothing more than a deviation to which limits and norms must be imposed with the ultimate aim of not losing a economically and socially stable stable subject. The family, then, ends up being part of this social construction, since apparently there is no ideal world to liberate children.

Antoine Doinel is criminalized and interned because of his picaresque games that, instead of being empathetic, are almost immediately tried. In Truffaut’s work, the place where Antoine is held is a reformatory that is shown as a world to create adults (formal and squared), but where ruse lights are still perceived. Doinel runs out of the physical bars where he militarizes and locks up the childhood, a literal and metaphorical scene used in the film, where the little ones are locked in a cage.

Fun as comfort

Today we have unlearned to play, to have fun and formality has filled us with triumphs and resignations. Today there are few who become the luck of the one who plays. Fun today only happens as a form of comfort or a little distraction to keep working or to stay (de) connected to digital computers.

Nietzsche thought that “to mature is to rediscover the seriousness with which the child plays “. The great German philosopher even considered that the last great transformation of the human being should become a child: to be a game, a wheel that begins to spin spontaneously (that moves by itself). ” Oh, who could from childhood trembling to a dawn of innocence reborn, ” declares the poet Barba Jacob. It is substantial to walk and return to the origin, to regenerate the experience of transcendental, affirmative childhood (a yes to a new creation, against the no of the concrete), full of wonder and perception, which seeks to meet the different. Who detaches himself from any purpose, learns and enjoys life and pure temporality (like a child who plays).

This society increasingly interrupts the capacity for wonder, to imagine, to decide, to risk, to lose, to discover, to create.

Childhood can also refer to the original human state, to an original Origin or to a previous life, close to the animal or natural essence (always latent ) and to Earth, to a larval, festive and mythical state, where we were knowing, we did not consume and We communicated in an exaggerated way and we had a world to discover on the horizon. Settle one step between the most natural and human culture, between being another and one, between mystery and fable (which always keeps something and is enchantment).

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