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Tirez sur le pp Tom Conley I N LES 400 COUPS, following a parade of students who systematic­ ally flake off the line their gym instructor leads down the streets below Montmartre, the camera registers a lesson in pathos and humor. The children, all accomplished truants, are wittier than their teacher, oblivious to their art of escape, who bounces and toots his whis­ tle during the morning jog. Shot from a rooftop, they are viewed, like the children of Rossellini at the end of Roma, città aperta, as the future of the city that confines them. A comic inversion of cinéma vérité, the sequence parodies an institution out of synch with the daily reality of children’s lives. But as the camera follows the file turning the corner at the edge of a boulevard, all of a sudden, like a white splotch daubed on the greyblack walls, is glimpsed a grafitto spelling GIRAUDOUX. Giraudoux posted on the streets of Paris below Montmartre in the gray of winter? The name literally murmurs on the walls before our eyes. So inconspicuously is the dramatist’s name tipped in the narrative that it passes by like a subliminal mark that stages the film’s unconscious. Or does it? The painted signature appears so briefly in the film that it seems, on the one hand, to display a primary, uncanny irruption of some­ thing other into the scenario at the same time it delineates certain camps of viewers from others. One group would effectively see Giraudoux’s name as a passing sign, as one of thousands of alphabetical shapes that parade by a pedestrian’s eyes in daily urban life. Another would see it as an inscription made to change the way the world is seen: as the name is placed at a vanishing point in the cityscape at the distant center of the composition, it marks a rallying cause for the director who had opted to forge an aesthetic through his identification with the playwright. A con­ vert to the New Wave would have seen, below and within the nine char­ acters of Giraudoux, a spiritual father for the sons of the Nouvelle Vague, the origin of auteur politics that Truffaut had launched not long before he began Les 400 coups. Quoting Giraudoux, he affirmed polemically, “ ‘Il n’y a pas d’œuvres, il n’y a que des auteurs.’ ” 1 If Truffaut were inscribing his politics into a protean esthetic of fast editing and rhapsodic camera movement, it is clear that he was doing so in a style that sought to catch fortuitous relations of art, film, and litera­ 26 S u m m e r 1990 C onley ture in the mix of the image, movement, writing, and memory. They are celebrated as an écriturefilmique produced, often independently of their author, through networks of sutures and gaps opened between familiar narratives, montage, everyday images and a retinal persistence of writing in the Parisian cityscape. Viewed thus, the Nouvelle vague would be a legacy obeying the oldest laws of literature, to the effect that poetry, whether written or filmed, is made from rebus-like, broken concatena­ tions of figures, letters, and spacings; that its multifarious meanings emerge from ever-changing shapes of simultaneously figurai and literal forms. Thus, if Giraudoux is a rallying cause for informed readers of Truffaut’s film, then Antoine’s father (Albert Rémy), when he unscrolls the long phylactery that sports CLUB DES LIONS in the narrow hall of the apartment in Les 400 Coups, offers a view of the world that recedes into deep space and is discerned only in lenticular distortion.2When he unravels the bold letters, he is also tipping a message about the ways that writing indicates how other, hidden “ rallying” causes of the film frame an unconscious marked by graphic elements in visible spatial tension. The force of Truffaut’s program appears to have been of a duration —from Les Misions (1957) through Jules et Jim (1962)—that could last only as long as combinations of writing and cinema were set at odds with narrative. When the balance was tipped in either one direction or an­ other, the play of...


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