Ranking: #91/111

Director: Francois Truffaut (France)

Genre: Coming-of-Age Drama

This coming-of-age drama is semi-autobiographical, based on the director’s adolescence. The grey palette used by Truffaut in this black-and-white movie suits the sombre portrait of a boy sfinding it hard to fit into society, while suffering from being unloved in a dysfunctional home. It’s the story of 13 year-old Antoine Doinel, who lives in a cramped, lower middle-class home eking out a drab existence. He constantly plays truant from school, slowly drifting into a life of petty crime.

The cinéma vérité like style lends a pacy immediacy to the narration, as well as a grittiness to the portrait of Paris at the time. Truffaut was one of the pioneers of the French New Wave cinema (La Nouvelle Vague) and it’s not hard to see why when you look at the intimate camera work, the personal vision of the film and the ruthless honesty of the depiction of lowdown human beings.

It was a film movement, centred in Paris, which began in the late 1950s as a rebellion against the Hollywood studio system and lasted into the sixties. Directors wanted full creative control over their film work, operating independently outside the monopolistic film studio system. Influenced by the post-war Existentialism spearheaded by Jean-Paul Sartre, the French New Wave directors developed an existential form of storytelling, telling it like it really is. These independently produced directors became known as auteur filmmakers. This meant their films had to show an intensely personal vision of the worlds they were depicting, stripped of stereotypes and aimed at a high level of artistic authenticity, just like authors of literary works.

Truffaut does inject some of that existential authenticity into the characters of this urban domestic drama. Antoine’s bossy and bad-tempered mother, who is having an affair, has a volatile relationship with his step-father. The boy witnesses some terrible arguments between the couple, which unsettle him further. One day, after his step-father strikes him for bunking school, he leaves home and wanders around the city, stealing a bottle of milk for sustenance.

Later, Antoine steals a typewriter from the company where his step-father works but cannot sell it or get rid of it, so he takes it back and gets caught. His parents then forfeit their parental rights and have him institutionalised in a centre for delinquent youth.

The film ends with one of the most well-known and admired sequences in all New Wave cinema, when Antoine escapes from the institution and just runs to freedom. The final shot is an unforgettable freeze-frame picture of a lonely, alienated, but free Antoine. As the camera zooms in on his face, the film ends. It is an intriguing, but sad, open-ended conclusion to a dramatic story of the trials of an unloved youth.