June 12, 2011

L'enfance nue (France 1968)

Francois Truffaut's "Les quatre-cents coups" is the one that gets all the praise but even if it fully deserves it, there is (at least) one other French film that seriously tackled troubled childhood: Maurice Pialat's 1968 feature debut "L'enfance nue" (which was in fact co-produced by Truffaut).

But if the stories of the young left alone boys are similar, they way the directors approach them are somehow different. Truffaut's film may be more touching on an emotional level and superior from a cinematic point of view. But it is Pialat who handles the subject more subtly in his film and who has the more complex main character. As opposed to "Les quatre-cent coups", it is never made clear whether he is a victim of his circumstances or whether he was just born this way. It also dubious whether he has the capability to change or remains a lost cause. He is shown doing some nasty things and committing minor crimes but there are also some scenes where we get to know an innocent, tender side of him. As his foster mother remarks, "he has a good heart" - something that nobody would be tempted to say about the young Antoine Doinel.

Truffaut's film was celebrated for his realism but in fact Pialat's pure, raw style feels even more realistic. He doesn't use any music or stilistic devices such as the freeze frame at the end of "Les quatre-cent coups". Instead, he shows the characters and their world in a rather unfiltered way. As a result, the film may not be as directly engrossing. But it is at least as honest as Truffaut's autobiographical film.

This is not to suggest that "L'enfance nue" is the better film. "Les quatre-cent coups" is one of my all-time favourites, a cinematic milestone, and as such remains untouchable. But "L'enfance nue" is an accomplished debut in its own right by one of France's most underrated directors.


Au revoir l'enfance: Michel Terrazon

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