Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. France, 1968. Parafrance Films, Parc Film, Renn Productions, Les Films du Carrosse. Screenplay by Arlette Langmann, Maurice Pialat. Cinematography by Claude Beausoleil. Produced by Vera Belmont, Guy Benier, Claude Berri, Mag Bodard, Francois Truffaut.
The 400 Blows is a feel-good romantic comedy compared to this excellent exploration of troubled childhood, which sits comfortably in the afterglow of Truffaut’s classic. Michel Terrazon is outstanding as a young boy being raised in a foster home that cannot deal with his truant and destructive behavior. The system moves him into the residence of an elderly couple who have spent many years raising foster children but, despite what seems not to be an outright desire to be malicious, our little hero just can’t get on the right side of things. Harsh, dour depictions of children being taken out of orphanages and delivered to homes like they were bottled milk are difficult to watch, even though Maurice Pialat couples his spartan direction (which very confidently for a first film avoids all stink of melodrama) with gorgeous, colour-saturated photography. The sense of tragedy is not in judging human failures but in finding them inevitable; it’s not a film you’ll rush to watch a second time, but it hits deep.