Watch Francois Truffaut’s Short Film, Les Mistons, Or What He Called “My First Real Film”

By the French New Wave’s stan­dards, François Truf­faut made films with a star­tling straight­for­ward­ness. Yet some­thing about the man’s entire body of work feeds the sneak­ing sus­pi­cion that, no mat­ter how many times you’ve watched every­thing in it, you’ve nev­er gazed upon its depths. This applies equal­ly to his beloved, oblique­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal The 400 Blows and its sequels, his well-known pic­tures like Fahren­heit 451 and Jules and Jim, and the Small Changes and Mis­sis­sip­pi Mer­maids of the world that few seem to watch today out­side of revival screen­ings. Jean-Luc Godard, Truf­faut’s cin­e­mat­ic col­league and one-time friend, ulti­mate­ly dis­missed near­ly every­thing in Truf­faut’s fil­mog­ra­phy as noth­ing more than “sto­ries.” Every cinephile must go through a moment of temp­ta­tion to do the same, but the films have a way of haunt­ing you into revis­i­ta­tion after revis­i­ta­tion — just like, say, Alfred Hitch­cock­’s. No won­der those two had so much to talk about.

Les Mis­tons, the sec­ond short film Truf­faut ever made and the first that ever sat­is­fied him, show­cas­es these qual­i­ties in minia­ture. A teenage girl named Bernadette, skirt fly­ing in the wind, bicy­cles across the coun­try­side for a ren­dezvous with her strap­ping gen­tle­man friend. This presents a fine oppor­tu­ni­ty for a quin­tet of mis­chief-mind­ed pre­pu­bes­cent boys. Obscure­ly tor­ment­ed by the old­er wom­an’s desir­abil­i­ty and their own inabil­i­ty to process it, they fol­low her around day after day, some­times tor­ment­ing her, some­times help­ful­ly fetch­ing her ten­nis balls, but usu­al­ly just star­ing. They might spend one after­noon play­ing cops-and-rob­bers; they might spend anoth­er get­ting beat­en up by the object of their qua­si-affec­tion’s boyfriend. They lead rich lives, these ram­bunc­tious, short-short­ed, ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry petits écol­iers.

Then the nar­ra­tor, a now-grown mem­ber of this com­i­cal­ly harm­less gang, remem­bers the cen­tral event: the man who has become Bernadet­te’s fiancée has per­ished in a moun­tain-climb­ing acci­dent. This leads to the quin­tes­sen­tial Truf­faut moment, ele­giac yet faint­ly trou­bling, that is Les Mis­tons’ last: months after the inci­dent, the boys hap­pen upon a dark­ly dressed Bernadette strolling stiffly down the road. Hid­ing behind a wall, they stare as she pass­es and dis­ap­pears from view. Expe­ri­enced Truf­faut-watch­ers should also note, of all things, the visu­al effects. Ear­ly exam­ples of the film­mak­er’s light but selec­tive touch appear in the slow-motion kiss one boy plants on Bernadet­te’s bicy­cle seat and the reverse motion that allows anoth­er to rise from his imag­i­nary death and re-enter his imag­i­nary gun­fight. Almost every­one oper­at­ing in the cre­ative space blown open by the French New Wave could do this sort of thing, of course, but few besides Truf­faut could do it — or would even con­sid­er doing it – in the ser­vice of under­state­ment.

Find Les Mis­tons in our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

Relat­ed con­tent:

François Truf­faut’s Big Inter­view with Alfred Hitch­cock

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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