FILM : Accent on the French

Mark Chalon Smith is a free - lance writer who regularly covers film for The Times Orange County Edition.

Two local campuses will have a French accent, cinematically speaking, Friday, Sept. 28, when Francois Truffaut's outstanding "The 400 Blows" and Moshe Mizrahi's poignant "Madame Rosa" are screened.

"The 400 Blows," Truffaut's first feature movie (1959), will be screened at UC Irvine as part of its "Personal Portraits" series. Golden West College begins its French film festival with "Madame Rosa," the 1977 Academy Award winner for best foreign-language film.

"The 400 Blows," the more influential of the movies, presented Truffaut as an emerging talent on the international film scene and offered promise of things to come. Truffaut, of course, became one of the world's celebrated directors.

This film is compelling for both its expert storytelling and as an early signpost of his creativity. The strength of "The 400 Blows" lies in its unadorned naturalism that, at times, has the clarity of the best documentaries. But Truffaut makes the troubled story of his 13-year-old hero, Antoine Doinel, so personal that we react to it with feelings that go beyond any objective dispassion.

Antoine (played with adolescent brooding by Jean-Pierre Leaud) and his unsympathetic relationship with his parents, school and society around him, is never overdramatized, giving the movie a quiet honesty.

A more pointed sentimentality can be found in "Madame Rosa." While less restrained and not as important as "The 400 Blows," this is still a significant French film and, to many, more accessible.

Simone Signoret provides a portrait of Rosa, a Holocaust survivor and long-retired Paris hooker who raises the children of neighborhood prostitutes.

At its center is the sometimes-melodramatic but rarely mawkish connection between Rosa and Momo (Samy Ben Youb), an Arab boy left with her 11 years before.

Signoret brings a weary grace to the role, and Youb responds with a gently unindulgent performance. It's easy becoming involved in their near-squalid but somehow sublime world because director Mizrahi's invitation is so heartfelt.

What: "The 400 Blows" and "Madame Rosa."

When: Both to be screened Friday, Sept. 28. "The 400 Blows" at 7 and 9 p.m. "Madame Rosa" at 7:30 p.m.

Where: "The 400 Blows" at UC Irvine's Student Center Crystal Cove Auditorium, Campus Drive at Bridge Street, Irvine. "Madame Rosa" at Golden West College's Forum II theater, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach.

Whereabouts: To reach UC Irvine, take the San Diego Freeway to Jamboree Road and head south to Campus Drive. Head east to Bridge Street. To reach Golden West College, take the San Diego Freeway to Golden West Street and head south, just before Edinger Avenue.

Wherewithal: $2 to $4 for "The 400 Blows." $3 to $3.50 for "Madame Rosa."

Where To Call: (714) 856-6379 for "The 400 Blows." (714) 891-3991 for "Madame Rosa."

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