Blow [2001]

The knowing yet innocent face of Jean-Pierre Leaud, the 14-year-old star of The 400 Blows, is the heartbreaking core of Francois Truffaut's most intimate film. As Antoine Doinel, Leaud begins his career as director Truffaut's alter-ego, a young boy neglected by his mother and stepfather who, to cover his absence at school, tells a lie that leads him to run away from home and end up in reform school. There's nothing remarkable or surprising about the plot; the power of this film comes from how completely it draws you into Antoine's life. Antoine is a vivid, natural presence, one of the most compelling collaborations between a writer/director and an actor. The movie seems to capture him as he lives. Antoine endures his parent's indifference, humiliations at school, deprivation and juvenile delinquency--yet the movie never feels pitying or condescending, as if it were trying to rub your nose in Antoine's suffering. On the contrary: His resilience is what grabs you, his refusal to be broken down as he struggles towards a more adult understanding of the world. Truffaut and Leaud made many excellent films together (Day for Night, Two English Girls), including further chapters in Antoine's life (Bed and Board, Stolen Kisses), but none were quite as simple, rich, and devastatingly potent as The 400 Blows. (The title, incidentally, refers not to abuse or anything sexual, but is a French idiom for a wild and unruly youth or "raising hell.") --Bret Fetzer

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