Cinematic Techniques in the Film The 400 Blows
The extraordinary film The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959) skillfully uses cinematic devices appropriately within the context of the theme. Part of the underlying theme of this movie as explained by Truffaut himself is, "... to portray a child as honestly as possible..."(Writing About Film, 1982). It is the scenes in this movie that are most helpful in disclosing the overall theme of the film. Within the scenes, the camera angles in this film play an important role in accentuating the emotions behind the scene. The camera angles used in this film will be the primary focus of this
paper. The high angle shots utilized in The 400 Blows are effective in helping to develop the overall feel of a scene. This movie uses the high angle shot in three different scenes to evoke three different emotions and it still works extremely well.
The opening sequence uses a series of high angle shots to assist in establishing a feeling of childhood innocence and indeed, the child in this film, Antoine Dionel (Jeanne-Pierre Leaud), starts out innocent. The camera focuses of the city buildings and the sky above. As shown from a ground point of view, the buildings are larger than life and intimidating. This is how most children view the world, as being large and intimidating. Take, for example, the scenario of dropping a child off for his/her first day of school. Most of them are devastated because they have to deal with a world that is larger than the one they know, and that is intimidating. The sky is vast and innocent, symbolizing a child's mind. Children have incredible imaginations and are also innocent by nature. There is a definite correlation here between the angle selected and the sense of childhood innocence. However, this particular camera angle does not always hold the same meaning in every shot.
A latter high angle shot involves the elementary school teacher. Mr. Bigey (Georges Flamant), the teacher, is first demonstrated in this film by using a high angle close-up. This angle presents the teacher as a figure of authority and rule. Furthermore it establishes a feeling control. Humans are most likely to look up to, figuratively speaking, figures of authority and control. As to follow with the storyline, the teacher is almighty and can direct the children in any sort of fashion he pleases. He has the control. This particular angle is appropriate for this scene because it establishes, right away, that Mr. Bigey is a force to be reckoned with. For example, when someone is knocked out in a fistfight and the first view they see upon awakening is the opponent towering over them, they are more apt to recognize the authority and control considering the view. That is why this angle works. Speaking of view, the next shot that will be discussed gives an entirely different feel, partly because of the view, but it does remain within the definition of a high angle shot.
In the reformatory, immediately after exiting the patty wagon, another high angle shot is employed to reveal the reinforced bars on the ceiling giving the audience a feeling of despair. The reinforced bars here are definitely important to the ambiance of the shot, but it is the camera angle that makes all the difference. If the camera were to be positioned in any other way, this shot would have lost its sense of despair. The outside world above the bars may be intimidating to a child, but the sense of despair comes from being trapped underneath it. It's almost like being buried alive. The high angle view here suggests that the audience is small in the same way that a short person looks up to a tall person. This further adds to the hopelessness of the scene. Above all Antoine is feeling despair at this point in the film, and the audience is able to empathize with him because of these brilliant camera angles and various other cinematic devices.
Although many other cinematic devices are employed to really make this film work, the camera angles in this film really made all the difference. The high angle shots selected here are the most appropriate for the given scenes. It is clear that a lot of thought is put into the angles of any one particular camera shot, and this is just one example of many that commands attention because they work.
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