WHO is he?
French film critic, director, screenwriter, actor and producer who made over 20 feature and short films between the Fifties and the Eighties. Prior to becoming a filmmaker, Truffaut was a noted critic for the legendary film magazine Cahiers du Cinema under the mentorship of André Bazin. His autobiographical feature film debut, The 400 Blows, won him the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959.
WHAT are his films about?
Truffaut’s films profoundly draw inspiration from his own life, its highs and lows. Many of them deal with women, love and women in love. The male characters in these films, through whose perspective the narrative typically unfolds, can’t but see women as objects of art — a problematic view that the films are sometimes aware of. They also deal with childhood, the problems of growing up and the need for education.
On account of his troubled childhood, Truffaut took to literature and writing at a very early age. This love for reading and writing, compounded with the idea of filmmaking as writing with camera, forms a major motif in his work. Some of his films play with American genre cinema conventions, at once transgressing and paying tribute to them. Striking stylistic features of his work include location cinematography, an episodic approach to narrative, eccentric division of space and self-reflexive image-making.
WHY is he of interest?
As a critic at Cahiers du Cinema, Truffaut wrote an article titled “A Certain Tendency of French Cinema”, criticising the literal-minded French cinema of the time, which eventually paved the way for the rise of the Auteur Theory — an approach to cinema that places the director at the centre of the creative enterprise. Truffaut’s writing and view of cinema was a key driving force for the early films of the French New Wave.
WHERE to discover him?
The 400 Blows, near unanimously held as the first film of the French New Wave, follows Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud, in one of the greatest debuts among child actors), a teenager who is disillusioned by his estranged parents and takes to the streets. Truffaut’s deeply heartfelt, emotionally resonant coming-of-age film contains one of the most iconic movie endings, in which a harried Antoine is arrested by a freeze frame of the camera, as though his only escape is through the eye of the camera, the cinema.