To Raise Hell

 

Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) is a 1959 French drama film, the debut by director François Truffaut; it stars Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, and Claire Maurier. One of the defining films of the French New Wave, it displays many of the characteristic traits of the movement. Written by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, the film is about Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood adolescent in Paris who is thought by his parents and teachers to be a troublemaker. Filmed on location in Paris and Honfleur, it is the first in a series of five films in which Léaud plays the semi-autobiographical character.

Besides being a character study, the film is an exposé of the injustices of the treatment of juvenile offenders in France at the time.

Truffaut made four other films with Léaud depicting Antoine at later stages of his life. He meets his first love, Colette, in Antoine and Colette, which was Truffaut’s contribution to the 1962 anthology Love at Twenty. He falls in love with Christine Darbon (Claude Jade) in Stolen Kisses. He marries Christine in Bed and Board, but the couple have separated in Love on the Run.

 

 

The semi-autobiographical film reflects events of Truffaut’s and his friends’ lives. In style, it expresses Truffaut’s personal history of French film, with references to other works—most notably a scene borrowed wholesale from Jean Vigo‘s Zéro de conduite. Truffaut dedicated the film to the man who became his spiritual father, André Bazin, who died just as the film was about to be shot.

Filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel, Satyajit Ray, Jean Cocteau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Richard Lester and Norman Jewison have cited The 400 Blows as one of their favorite movies. Kurosawa called it “one of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen”.

The English title is a straight translation of the French but misses its meaning, as the French title refers to the idiom “faire les quatre cents coups”, which means “to raise hell”. And that’s precisely what the main character does. On the first prints in the United States, subtitler and dubber Noelle Gilmore gave the film the title Wild Oats, but the distributor did not like that and reverted it to The 400 Blows. Before seeing it, some people thought the film covered the topic of corporal punishment.

 

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A Supposed Lie Detector

Alfred Hitchcock at La Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth) in Rome

 
 

La Bocca della Verità is an image, carved from Pavonazzo marble, of a man-like face, located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy. The sculpture is thought to be part of a first-century ancient Roman fountain, or perhaps a manhole cover, portraying one of several possible pagan gods, probably Oceanus. Most Romans believe that the ‘Bocca’ represents the ancient god of the river Tiber.

The most famous characteristic of the Mouth, however, is its role as a lie detector. Starting from the Middle Ages, it was believed that if one told a lie with one’s hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off. The piece was placed in the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the 17th century. This church is also home to the supposed relics of Saint Valentine.

 
 

Joe (Gregory Peck) shocks his royal friend (Audrey Hepburn), pretending to have lost his hand to the Mouth of Truth

 
 

The Mouth of Truth is known to English-speaking audiences mostly from its appearance in the film Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953). The film also uses the Mouth of Truth as a storytelling device since both Hepburn’s and Peck’s characters are not initially truthful with each other.

 
 

This scene from Roman Holiday was parodied in the film Only You (Norman Jewison, 1994) starring Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei