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Truffaut and Goddard in Their Early Works, “Breathless” and “The 400 Blows” Essay Sample

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Truffaut and Goddard in Their Early Works, “Breathless” and “The 400 Blows” Essay Sample

Two late 1950’s French film masterpieces, “Breathless” by Jean-Luc Goddard and “The 400 Blows” by Francois Truffaut share many characteristic techniques used by their directors and yet each film leaves the viewer with a completely distinct impression.

One of the things that brings Truffaut’s and Goddard’s works together is skillful use of documentary-like style. In every scene of “Breathless” Goddard uses natural lighting and background noises – something that would be appreciated by the late 1990’s Scandinavian directors from the Dogma school. For instance, while the conversation between Michel and Patricia takes place in Patricia’s room, their voices are nearly faded out by a car siren outside. This, as well as a great deal of spontaneity on behalf of the actors and the cinematographer, gives the film an appearance of a documentary. This is a continuation of Truffaut’s ideas about how films should be made: with real life situations and people, and almost no sets.

In Truffat’s film, the camera moves about smoothly, almost effortlessly following the characters in action. It changes angles sharply in certain instances, then stops for some extraordinarily long takes, like some in the classroom, and in Antoine’s friend’s house, or in a beautiful take at the end of the film that shows Antoine, then a panoramic view, and then Antoine, running towards the sea, again. We also see some interesting shooting from nearly impossible angles, like those from below the Eiffel Tower.

Truffaut uses untraditional camera techniques to observe people and take unexpected pictures of human behavior and emotions. While some of his scenes, such as the ones in which Antoine is tearing out pages from his notebook, or combing his hair, or the scene following his escape, are extremely long, they do not appear to be slow at all, keeping up constant tension and interest in the viewer.

Goddard seems to share Truffaut’s admiration of Paris and its voluptuous, confusing and sometimes cruel street life. Some of the most expressive scenes in both films take place in the city streets.

Goddard appears to go one step further than Truffaut does in his departure from the existing tradition. One feature that creates a sharp contrast between “Breathless” and “The 400 Blows” is Goddard’s film’s purposeful unrealism. The film, as well as its characters, is made up of bits and pieces, quoting classic moments from various earlier cinematic works. Goddard quotes popular gangster movies by using certain melodramatic jazz pieces as if to mark approaching danger.

The scene depicting Michel and Patricia under a sheet, with a sudden burst of marching music from the radio and an arm protruding in an effort to turn it off, could have come straight out of an average romantic comedy. While Goddard and Truffaut often use the same editing techniques, the effect they produce is completely different. Goddard seems to be constantly reminding viewers that what they’re seeing is a movie, not the real world. In some cases he breaks up a single camera shot with so many jump cuts that the image on the screen seems to be constantly leaping forward. This technique serves a purpose of giving the entire film a specific rhythm. Some of Goddard’s quotes from silent movie era works create a nearly humorous impression, for instance, when the image on the screen irises out, leaving a black field that then irises open to produce a new image. A similar black out also happens in “The 400 Blows”, when Antoine goes down the stairs to throw away garbage.

Both Goddard and Truffaut make elaborate use of innovative, non-theatrical cinema techniques, almost allowing their characters to act as they please, in an attempt to portray their quest of freedom and the desire to step beyond the limits of ordinary existence. Goddard, however, seems to do this with a more radical and yet humorous approach, not only departing from the existing film-shooting tradition, but also casting a shade of doubt on the reality of his characters, constantly reminding us of the artificial nature of what we see on the screen.

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