This was one of the first significant films of the French New Wave. Francois Truffaut started out as a critic for the Cahiers du Cinema and was then challenged to make a film on his own after he had harshly criticized what some people at the time considered to be classic films. He had some funding to make the film from money he had inherited and used all non-actors for the film. This was the first film that starred Antoine Doinel as a boy, who later went on to be in many other French films. The film is a character study of the child Jean-Pierre Leaud as he lives his day to day life. At school he often finds himself in trouble and at home his Mother does not really love him and his Father does not provide the guidance he needs. He feels very isolated, and seems to realize at this early age that this is his lot in life. It reminds me a bit of the novel "Death on the Installment Plan" by Celine in that it follows a young French man who feels completely hopeless and trapped.
Because of the negative situation at home and at school, he begins skipping class and committing petty crimes with his friend. He is eventually discovered stealing and is punished. After being sent off to a juvenile detention center, he escapes and the last notorious sequence in the film is the camera following him running on the beach (which he said throughout the film he always wanted to see). The films ends with a freeze frame of Jean-Pierre looking back, directly into the camera. This suggests that he will never escape his fate of misery, even though he has temporarily skirted it.
The film is said to be autobiographical for Truffaut and represents at least vaguely how he grew up. The film is dedicated to Andre Bazin, who was somewhat of a Father figure to Truffaut. Bazin was a film theorist himself, and a great influence on the French New Wave. This was one of the first films to focus on a child as the main character, and this was fascinating to audiences. The film was very successful, and it established Truffaut as a major voice in the French New Wave. It also enabled Truffaut to help fund more of his own films, as well of the works of others- such as Godard.