Discovering delinquents: real rebels on film
In the spirit of our ‘Juvenile Delinquents’ theme on Curzon12, we take a look at how real life teen rebels have inspired auteurs. From Francois Truffaut casting his classic The 400 Blows, to Andrea Arnold finding authentic working class women for her films, and non-professional school kids starring in a Palme d’Or nominee: the voice of youth has shaped cinema more than we realise.
THE 400 BLOWS (1959)
In Autumn 1958, Francois Truffaut auditioned several hundred boys for the role of the juvenile delinquent leads in his semi-autobiographical debut The 400 Blows. Recognising a kindred spirit in the troubled 14 year old Jean-Pierre Léaud – “we were both rebels” – Truffaut cast him in the iconic role of Antoine Doinel. There was a thin line between the auteur and the actor, with Antoine becoming a recurring character in five of Truffaut’s later features, and a long-lasting influence on his New Wave works.
On seeing a reference from Léaud’s school director he was told, "I regret to inform you that Jean-Pierre is more and more 'unmanageable'. Indifference, arrogance, permanent defiance, lack of discipline in all its form”. So a perfect match for the misunderstood delinquent. Their relationship could have ended after the cameras stopped rolling, but when Léaud was expelled from school and kicked out of a foster home Truffaut took charge of his upbringing and supported him financially, never giving up on the young rebel as the adults in The 400 Blows did.
THE KID WITH A BIKE (2011)
To find the right kid to play Cyril, a troubled 11 year old boy abandoned by his father, the Palme d'Or-winning Dardenne brothers whittled down over 600 responses to 150. Newcomer Thomas Doret was the fifth boy they saw and according to Jean-Pierre Dardenne, "it clicked right away". In his audition Thomas brought a tragic intensity to a scene where Cyril keeps calling his dad, deep down knowing he won't answer, and went on to win a Young Artist Award for his performance in a film the Dardennes describe as a modern fairytale. Although not a Léaud-like rebel in real life, Doret brings a touch of realism and vulnerability to the role through his working class background and natural acting abilities.
FISH TANK (2009)
The story of how Katie Jarvis was cast as volatile teen Mia in gritty British drama Fish Tank is now part of film history: one of auteur Andrea Arnold's casting assistants saw her arguing with her boyfriend at an Essex train station. The 17 year old then unemployed Jarvis had no acting experience, but Arnold knew she was right for the role of an isolated teen who dreams of being a dancer.
Arnold also helped launch the career of newcomer Sasha Lane, star of American Honey (2016), when she spotted the dreadlocked 19 year old on spring break in Florida, and cast her as teenage runaway Star weeks before filming began.
Megan James, Curzon Home Cinema