A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.
Charlie Kohler is a piano player in a bar. The waitress Lena is in love with him. One of Charlie's brother, Chico, a crook, takes refuge in the bar because he is chased by two gangsters, ... See full summary »
Seemingly in constant trouble at school, 14-year-old Antoine Doinel returns at the end of every day to a drab, unhappy home life. His parents have little money and he sleeps on a couch that's been pushed into the kitchen. His parents bicker constantly and he knows his mother is having an affair. He decides to skip school and begins a downward spiral of lies and theft. His parents are at their wits' end, and after he's stopped by the police, they decide the best thing would be to let Antoine face the consequences. He's sent to a juvenile detention facility where he doesn't do much better. He does manage to escape however.Written by
Deserved Truffaut Classic Benefits Significantly from Criterion's New DVD Package
As the seminal work of the French New Wave, the 1959 directorial debut of 27-year old Francois Truffaut has such a vaunted reputation that the final film is bound to disappoint. However, the pristine print that comes with the new Criterion Collection DVD really makes me realize what a brave and emotionally resonant film he made ostensibly about his own troubled adolescence. It's worth seeing twice - once for the film itself and a second time to listen to the newly recorded commentary by Truffaut's childhood friend Robert Lachenay (the true-life inspiration for Rene in the film). Speaking in French but subtitled in English, he provides insights into the story and context of the film that no film scholar or even production associate could possibly provide. As a point of comparison, listen to the by-the-numbers commentary by film scholar Brian Stonehill (recorded back in 1992), which is thoughtful and well researched but devoid of the human factor.
The film's title comes from a French colloquialism that translates into "raising hell", an appropriate reference since the story focuses on a thirteen-year old hellion named Antoine, living in a poor section of Paris and neglected by parents downright arrogant in their dysfunctional nature. Antoine consequently lives a street urchin's life as he lies to people in authority - his parents, his teachers, and the police - since he admits rather sadly that the truth doesn't make any difference. Truffaut tracks Antoine's life through a series of dispiriting episodes that ultimately lead him to be sent away to a reformatory after he gets caught returning a stolen typewriter and his mother and stepfather tire of their responsibility over him. To Truffaut's immense credit, the film feels stark and naturalistic without resorting to dramatic manipulation, and he finds the ideal Antoine in Jean-Pierre Leaud, who brings out the confusion, angst and wandering attention of his character in realistic terms. He is especially impressive in an apparently improvised scene where he is interviewed by the school authorities about why his life has come to this. It is heartbreaking to see how bleak his life becomes, yet Leaud imbues the incorrigible, often intolerable side of Antoine with fervor.
There are several interesting extras included with the 2006 DVD package starting with two separate interviews with Truffaut, the first a year after the film's release discussing he film's impact and the second five years later when we see the filmmaker in a more reflective mood about his cinematic influences. Leaud is featured in 16mm screen test footage where his naturally ebullient personality emerges and then after the 1959 Cannes Film Festival where puberty has apparently kicked in and then in 1965 as a comparatively reserved twenty-year old. The screen test of Richard Kanayan (who has a minor role as a schoolmate) is amusing for his Satchmo-inspired rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and his eerie resemblance to Fantasy Island's Tattoo, Herve Villechaize. Be forewarned that the film is relentlessly downbeat, but Truffaut's emotional investment and consummate abilities as a filmmaker, even at this stage of his career, make this essential viewing.
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