May 4: The 400 Blows

400 BlowsToday we celebrate another landmark moment in film history, the release of  François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows on this day in 1959. The 400 Blows, along with the 1960 release of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, represented the birth of French New Wave cinema.

The 400 Blows tells the story of Antoine Doinel, a young Parisian boy played by Jean-Pierre Leaud. The film follows Doinel’s life as he occasionally gets in trouble with his family and school. The film is a touching and sometimes hilarious portrait of adolescence, partially inspired by Truffaut’s own childhood. When it was first released 55 years ago today, The 400 Blows was an instant critical hit and it was nominated for several awards including the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or and the Academy Award for Best Writing, a rare Oscar nomination for a foreign film. At Cannes, the film would earn Truffaut the award for Best Director; not bad for a first time director.

Truffaut never thought he’d revisit the characters of his first film, but in 1962 he was invited to take part in an anthology film called Love At Twenty, and decided to revisit Doinel for the project. Here, our hero, again played by Leaud, returned as a teenager in love in a short film called Antoine and Colette. Truffaut would again revisit the character in three subsequent feature films, with the fifth and final Doinel film, Love On The Run, was released in 1979, twenty years after The 400 Blows‘ release.

The “Adventures of Antoin Doinel” is a film series unlike almost any other, providing periodic snapshots of Doinel over the years and tracing his (and in many ways Truffaut’s) life from adolescence to early mid-life and through romantic courtship, marriage and divorce. Its closest comparison is probably Richard Linklater’s 18-year spanning Before Sunrise trilogy. Love On The Run was not as well received as the other Doinel films, and there are rumors that Truffaut always intended to make one more feature about his most famous character. Tragically, Truffaut died at the age of 52 in 1984 from a brain tumor and was never able to revisit Doinel.

In January 2012, the Seattle Art Museum’s film department organized a series entitled “Forever Young: The Films of Francois Truffaut”. In tribute to the Truffaut retrospective, Inga Walker, a bartender at the museum’s TASTE restaurant, developed a cocktail fittingly called Paris Gray. It’s a bittersweet, murky cocktail that’s quite fitting for the 55th anniversary of The 400 Blows.

Paris Grey

  • 2 ounces Gin
  • 3/4 ounce  Creme de Violette
  • 1/4 ounce Benedictine
  • 2 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters
  • 1 splash simple syrup

Stir all ingredients with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

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