Film as an act of love: On the 50th of François Truffaut’s Quatre cents coups

20090402_1309blows_w Sukhdev Sandhu in New Statesman:

Les quatre cents coups was anything but creaky. It wasn’t a story, so much as a series of episodes that contained the rhythms of life, especially the rhythms of adolescence – a time of inexplicable longings, aching boredom, whimsical raptures – rather than those of well-made plays. The film used real locations, sounds and lighting. It seemed as improvisatory as jazz music, and felt just as modern.

As such, it fully delivered on the claim that Truffaut had made in an article just a couple of years earlier: “The film of tomorrow appears to me as even more personal than an individual and autobiographical novel, like a confession, or a diary [. . .] The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it, and the number of spectators will be proportional to the number of friends the director has. The film of tomorrow will be an act of love.”

The idea that a film can be an expression of a director’s identity and personal vision became known as “auteur theory”, helped give space in Hollywood to directors such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and David Lynch, and has become sacred for independent cinema. It was also a key element of the Nouvelle Vague movement, of which Les quatre cents coups, while not the first expression (that honour goes perhaps to Claude Chabrol’s Le beau Serge of 1958), nor even the only example in 1959 (there was also Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, mon amour, and Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle appeared just months later in 1960), remains one of the high points.