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Growing Up in the Movies
Posted September 10, 2010 to photo album "Growing Up in the Movies"
To coincide with the release of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Nick Dawson looks at more movies in which teenage protagonists are thrust into the world of grown-ups.
Slide 5: The 400 Blows (1959)
François Truffaut announced himself – and the French New Wave – in 1959 with this poignant depiction of the troubled childhood of Antoine Doinel, Truffaut’s screen alter ego who was played in this and four subsequent films by Jean-Pierre Léaud. In The 400 Blows, Antoine is a sensitive, well-intentioned 12-year-old schoolboy who is thought by his teachers to be a troublemaker (the film’s title is a reference to a French phrase about raising hell). His bad luck (being caught with a naked picture being passed around class) and poor judgment (skipping school, lying about his absence, petty theft) lead him from one bad situation to another, and finally to his placement in a center for juvenile delinquents. While the parents in Los Olvidados ignore and maltreat the young protagonists, here Antoine’s parents rid themselves of parental responsibility by signing him over to the juvenile justice system; in both movies, children are not allowed to remain children, but are cruelly and prematurely thrust into adult roles. The film famously ends with a freeze frame shot of Antoine running towards the sea, a moment, writes John Conomos in Senses of Cinema, “of ecstatic delight, in that it expresses Antoine's newly found freedom from the constraints of a non-caring adult world. … Then, suddenly, we are behind Antoine as he faces the sea in the distant. This darkened full shot of the teenage protagonist suggests the underlying co-existing sadness and beauty in his life.” Truffaut’s movie, Conomos writes, “tells us in simple compassionate terms a collective moral truth that we know in our bones but is often swept under the carpet of adult conformity - that a child entering adulthood amounts to a second painful birth. We care for Antoine, for most of us in some way have experienced the light and darkness of his childhood.”