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Truffaut and France's Beautiful Stru

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Truffaut and France's Beautiful Stru

"The proudest, stubbornest, most obstinate, in other words most free, film in the world" went Jean-Luc Godard's 1959 description of "The 400 Blows," Fran?ois Truffaut's 1959 film about neglect and petty crime in Paris.

The quote appeared in Cahiers du Cinema, the influential film journal that was also a holding pen for the gang of ardent young cinephiles that broke onto the French filmmaking scene at the end of the 1950s and altered the course of cinema. Leading the charge was Truffaut's smash-success debut feature, an unforgettable portrait of a boy from a broken home.

As with Orson Welles and Godard, whose nervy, brilliant first feature,"Breathless," was released the same year, Truffaut's debut release, made when he was 27, assured him a place in the canon. "The 400 Blows," a restored print of which arrives at Film Forum today for a two-week run, is sincere and touching, unsentimental, and funny, and features a remarkable performance by 14-year-old Jean Pierre L?aud as troubled Antoine Doinel.

Neglected by his derelict parents, Antoine skips school and guides himself around Paris, stealing things and trying charmingly to return them. His Paris is grimy, seedy, abandoned, and brimming with possibilities.

Mr. L?aud would play Antoine in four more Truffaut films, helping the director's suite of semi-autobiographical films give birth to arguably the most richly drawn character in cinema. But "The 400 Blows" captures Antoine at his youngest and most vulnerable nowhere more so than the famous freeze-frame close-up that ends the film.

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