3. Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) (Francois Truffaut, 1959)
If any one film is the first French new wave picture (the crest of the wave, as it were) it is surely Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) by Francois Truffaut, and to many people it remains the greatest new wave film, because it is the most overtly emotional and moving. It is partly autobiographical, based on Truffaut’s own experience as an adopted child, and tells the tale of Antoine Doinel, a young boy who is extremely sensitive but as a result is unable to fit into school or the rest of society. The title refers to the seemingly unending series of blows, or obstacles, that Antoine has to endure as he tries to escape, first from his unfeeling stepfather and then from the borstal-type detention centre that he is despatched to. Finally, he does escape, to the ocean he has always dreamed of visiting, and the sight of him plunging in and out of the sea, filmed from a succession of angles by Truffaut, is truly exhilarating and uplifting: at one and the same time, it is a boy playing in the surf and suggestive of troubled mankind returning to its ocean birthplace to rediscover its lost essence.