A Note on Closure in Truffaut’s Les 400 Coups

A Note on Closure in Truffaut’s Les 400 Coups

Closure in film has generally been understood to be the opposite of open-endedness. For example, Bordwell and Thompson write:


In a mystery film, if we learn who the criminal is, the film has closure, but if it leaves a doubt about that person’s guilt, it remains relatively open.[1] 

Note that closure and open-endedness are viewed here as mutually limiting options, so that the more (or stronger the) closure a film is given, the less open-ended it will be. A film left open-ended is likewise assumed to have weak closure. Again, Bordwell and Thompson suggest that


most classical narrative film displays strong degrees of closure at the end. Leaving no loose ends unresolved, these films seek to end their causal chains with a final effect. We usually learn the fate of each character, the answer to each mystery, and the outcome of each conflict (p. 83). 

As an example of an open-ended film, they cite Truffaut’s Les 400 Coups:


The boy Antoine Doinel has escaped from a reformatory and runs along the seashore. The camera zooms in on his face and the frame freezes. The plot does not reveal whether he is captured and brought back, leaving us to speculate on what might happen next (70).An ending can be relatively “open” as our example from The 400 Blows suggests. In other words, the plot presents story events that leave us uncertain as to the nature of the final consequences (74).


Bordwell and Thompsen’s argument could be taken one step further, since not only are we in the dark as to Antoine’s immediate future, but we are even left uncertain as to how to interpret the look on his face as the film ends. This can be demonstrated by the fact that readings of Antoine’s facial expression in the freeze-frame shot diverge considerably, and range from happiness (Baroncelli 1959)[2] and hope (Katz 1982)[3] to uncertainty (Insdorf 1979)[4] and disillusionment (MacDonald 1960)[5].

Yet other commentators take into account the fact that Antoine is looking into the camera, and therefore at us. For some, the film ends with an indictment of society (Allen 1974)[6], for others with a child’s bewilderment and pleading (Crowther 1959)[7] or questioning stare (Houston 1963)[8]. And one commentator has suggested, in a manner that would gladden the heart of any French intellectual, that “At the end, you are no longer looking at the film – the film is looking at you” (Croce 1960)[9].

Other readings attempt to account specifically for the fact that the action is stopped in a freeze frame. For one commentator, this suggests paralysis or suicide (Kauffmann)[10], for others, Antoine’s entrapment (Insdorf,[11] Greenspan[12]), a police photo or death (Thiher)[13] and dehumanization (Shatnoff).[14]

Finally, there are commentators who simply state that the ending is deliberately left open or ambiguous (Sadoul 1959[15]; Rohde 1960[16]).

It would seem, therefore, that virtually everyone would agree that Les 400 Coups ends with weak closure, at least as that concept has been defined in the past.

However, as Richard Neupert has argued in his recent book, The End – Narration and Closure in the Cinema (1995)[17], an important distinction must be made between story resolution and closure of the narrative discourse. For Neupert, the story in Les 400 Coups is left open but the discourse is closed, largely through the freezing of the final frame and the use of the musical score.

In describing the frozen frame, Neubert wrote for example that Antoine is transformed


from a solid body moving through space into a figure of the arrestation of the film’s driving strategies. The “stilled” Antoine becomes an image of termination; the optical zoom approaches, turning him into a static spectacle. There is nowhere for the viewer’s glance to wander. The point of view structure has changed the spectator’s look into a fixed stare, freezing the action codes and closing the narrative discourse by giving a final, impossible view of Antoine (99). 

Whatever else it may be taken to signify in relation to the story (entrapment, paralysis, dehumanization, death), the freeze-frame image is a strong and innovative closure device, signaling that nothing more will happen in this film and giving us a moment to adjust to the fact that we now have to let go of the fiction.

Curiously, Truffaut himself thought of the freeze-frame neither in terms of its possible story meaning, nor even as a means for providing closure – at least if his reply to an interviewer was entirely frank. When asked about his intentions regarding the freeze-frame, he replied: “the final freeze was simply an accident. I told Léaud to look into the camera. He did, but quickly turned his eyes away. Since I wanted that brief look he gave me the moment before he turned, I had no choice but to hold on to it; hence the freeze.”[18]

Truffaut’s original intention was thus for Léaud to continue looking into the camera in live action, presumably for the same 10 seconds the freeze-frame lasts. This ending would also undoubtedly have provided adequate closure. But the stasis embodied by the freeze-frame is even more striking. And considering how open-ended the story is, and even the final image of Antoine – susceptible as it is of radically divergent readings – it is probably just as well that Truffaut had to find an alternate and even stronger closural device.

This example illustrates the fact that closure and open-endedness are not mutually exclusive nor even mutually limiting options, as was previously held. It could even be argued that the more open-ended a film is with respect to story, the more important it is to provide the strongest possible closure within its narrative discourse.



Remembering John Hughes: 10 most totally awesome high school movies


As a child of the 80’s, my expectations of high school life were indelibly shaped by John Hughes, the king of the teen movie. Reality, of course, never lived up to the John Hughes fantasy. I never attended a party anything like the rager at Jake’s house in Sixteen Candles. Never managed to cram an Astros game, trip to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, a ride to the top of Chase Tower, crashing either of the MLK Day parades and lunch at Vargo’s into a school day.

But Mr. Hughes gave those of us in the Nimitz High School class of 1992 something to shoot for.

So, in honor of John Hughes, here’s my list of the 10 most totally awesome movies set in a high school. Thanks to my Chronicle colleagues, who flooded my in-box with suggestions. Here they are, in no particular order, except for the Breakfast Club, which is first because it’s the best and if you disagree we can’t be friends.

What’s on your list?

The Breakfast Club

If you didn’t spend at least one night parked on an abandoned road with your buddies quoting lines from this movie, you didn’t attend high school from 1985 to 1995.

“Did I stutter?”

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

“Nine times.”

Sixteen Candles

“Can I borrow your underpants?”

To Sir, With Love

Sidney Poitier. A serious dude with serious moves.

Back to the Future

“Give me a milk. Chocolate.”

The Last Picture Show

Cloris Leachman, before the unfortunate dancing experiment

Better Off Dead

“I want my two dollars.”

Can’t Buy Me Love

I mowed lawns for cash in high school, too. That’s where the similarities between Patrick Dempsey and me end.

Napoleon Dynamite

“Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh.”


The first mean girls

Heck, let’s make it 15.


“I don’t know. Maybe there’s two of us.”

Cooley High

“Why don’t you go somewhere?”


Somehow, I don’t think it’s like this at HSPVA.


Matthew Broderick ain’t Ferris no more.

Summer School

I watched this movie on cable around 50 times one summer. Maybe that’s why I married a woman who’s a dead ringer for Courtney Thorne Smith.





據說當年黃沾亦曾打過《阿飛》續集主意,揚言要親撰劇本,將梁朝偉及劉嘉玲發展成一對,順著劇情發展。偉仔演回賭徒,加幾場床上戲,再利用王家衛手 頭剩下的菲林,剪接之前拍下的片段,便大功告成。他甚至興奮得當晚致電鄧光榮提出合作大計,說不用投資太多便可坐享豐收。最終鄧光榮卻以合約問題需要解 決,婉拒沾叔好意。




著名編劇林超榮當年曾被邀請到鄧光榮的製作公司,翻看大批《阿》片影片,這景象至今他仍歷歷在目。「百多呎的剪片房擺滿『一餅餅』菲林,堆到上天花 板。」花了一星期睇片,結果只看了一半,林超榮坦言,未曝光的片段主要分兩類,第一類是NG片段,第二類是幾場較完整的戲。例如,有一幕戲講劉嘉玲跳舞給 張學友看,觀眾看到的是劉嘉玲在樓梯口跳舞,其實當時還拍了另一幕是在空地跳舞的,但最終無用這段片,「很多NG片都很零碎,例如不少場景講劉德華在員警 宿舍的生活,拍攝他在宿舍擦皮鞋、洗衫等,也有部分是文戲對白,部分只有十幾二十秒,連樣貌都未看清楚。」

「雖然嚴重超支,但贏盡口碑,當年大哥(鄧光榮)亦想乘勢拍續集,他見該片導演王家衛反正拍了很多菲林,就有意找些青春演員做主角的後生版,例如找 當年仍是新人的曹永廉、林文龍等人做年輕版的梁朝偉、劉德華,然後串連未曝光的片段,拍套《阿飛別傳》。不過,我看片後跟大哥說,片段製成紀錄片就可以, 但要串連成電影就很難,所以最終沒拍成下集。」林超榮說。

當年有份為續集構思的著名編劇林紀陶指出,《阿飛別傳》一開始拍時,已預了是拍兩集,「當時大哥簽一些海外賣埠的合約,也是兩集一齊簽的,所以大哥 一直好想拍埋佢。不過,當時王家衛正在拍《東邪西毒》很忙,所以大哥就找了當時算是新晉編劇的我們幫手。」於是他便與林超榮等一齊為續集度橋,「我們的角 色是構思一些故事給王家衛參考,續拍當然都是要由王家衛來,我們只是在『榫口位』幫下手。」

林紀陶透露,《阿》片的菲林當中有二三十分鐘是續集的片段,主要是在一間板間房中拍攝,「其中張曼玉和梁朝偉的鏡頭都是分開拍攝的,但兩人予人一種 很接近的感覺。」他指出,梁朝偉在續集的角色,應是新一代的「阿飛」、新一代的浪子,「他和張國榮的聯繫,應是二人都在不同時間認識張曼玉。」

他指出,當時續拍《阿》的準備工夫已做了不少,也有想過找梁朝偉和張曼玉補幾組戲,「當時已搵過二人度期,兩個人都應承了。」他指出,大哥對《阿》 片續集一直念念不忘,「當時都有人提議,不如將這些菲林拍成紀錄片,不過大哥唔想,他始終認為,這些片段如果有一日曝光,應該是以drama(戲劇)的形 式。」

片段倘曝光 應以戲劇形式










Damn, Steve McQueen Had Smoking Good Shopping Skills



A little shot of inspiration for you: some more Life outtakes of Steve McQueen from 1963, brought to our attention by A Continuous Lean. Don’t know if we’ll ever get sick of seeing that dude chain smoke, chug beer, and do other badass things. Keep ’em coming!

Read More http://www.gq.com/style/blogs/the-gq-eye/index5.html#ixzz1FyiGnqcC