Francois Truffaut: The New Wave’s Ringleader
Neupert, Richard John. “Francois Truffaut: The New Wave’s Ringleader.” A History of the French New Wave Cinema. University of Wisconsin Press 2007, 161-206
Both Truffaut and Goddard were the champions of French New Wave cinema. Each auteur brought their own school of filmmaking within the movement and proved that “they too, could display personal stories and styles that fit within their own calls for a “cinema in first person” p161 in opposition to the cold and calculating “tradition of quality” Truffaut strives for a realism of characters – the vilans are still sympathetic, the actors are allowed to play and react naturally, sound is captured while filming in an uncontrolled way.
Truffaut wasn’t afraid of injecting elements of his personal life into his film in his endeavour to capture life. “Truffaut’s interviews and articles usually stressed the parallels between his artistic output and his personal insight, further fuelling a fascination with Truffaut the individual and making his private life highly pertinent to the critical understanding of his films.” p 162 Truffaut has said of Antoine in The 400 Blows that the character is modelled on his own childhood. The respect with which he treats the character Antoine is something that has secured the films place in history. Truffaut is interested in representing children without condescension. Truffaut would use real people rather than actors within his film and play with the techniques afforded him by technology. “While the film has a very rapid pace by New Wave standards, with an ASL of 7.6 seconds, it nonetheless contains some wonderfully long takes that exploit the camera’s mobility and the deep focus possible with outdoor shooting.” p168
French New Wave was born out of the film critics turned directors and the influence of years of dissecting the films of others and identifying dissatisfaction with the medium is obvious. Truffaut was influenced broadly from the neorealist directors to American Gangster films.
Neupert discusses Truffaut’s stylistic traits:
“These stylistic traits of shooting minimally on location, employing natural acting rhythms, and alternating long takes with short, self-conscious stylistic flourishes will prove typical throughout Truffaut’s career.” 175
“This mix of tones permeates the movie, creating a casual, comic style that defies narrative unity.” 176
“One final story trait that will recur in Truffaut’s oeurve is the goodnatured way he places children at the center of his narratives. As Annette Insdorf notes, Tuffaut’s films “constitute a vision of childhood unequaled in the history of the cinema for sensitivity, humour, poignancy, and respect for children themselves.” p176
“One of the most significant sequences for understanding Truffaut’s distinctive plot and mise-en-scene tactics is the series of shots that make up the day when Antoine and Rene play hooky, ride the rotor, and run across Antoine’s mother kissing the other man. This scene displays Truffaut’s versatility, with sudden shifts in Jean Constantine’s jaunty jazz themes, a mix of camer and editing techniques, and a loose sequencing of shots, often placed end-to-end rather than building classical unity.” p185
“Like a jazz score, the film has it’s own unique structure, and it is not unusual for first-time viewers to be simultaneously impressed and confused by its meandering narrative and ironic tone.” p 198 (shoot the piano player)
“Moreover, by situation this love triangle between 1912 silent film footage and 1930s newsreels of the rise of Nazism, Truffaut connects personal and political history with the cinema, reinforcing his recurring motif of the potential for movies to help the viewer understand his or her own real-world life.” p204
Truffaut was a fan of moral ambiguity in his characters:
“If the director has a definite moral viewpoint to express, it is to obscure that the visual amorality and immorality of the film are predominant and consequently pose a serious problem for a mass medium of entertainment” p202
“It was precisely the brazen amorality of Moreau’s Catherine, reinforced by the passive acquiescence of the men, that triggered initial thematic discussions of Truffaut’s film.” p202