The 400 Blows (1959)

8.1
  • Not Rated
  • Genre: Crime
  • Release year: 1959 (1959-06-03)
  • Running time: 99 min
  • Original Title: Les quatre cents coups
  • Voted: 93287
Les quatre cents coups is a movie starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, and Claire Maurier. A young boy, left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime.
#PersonCharacters
1Jean-Pierre LéaudAntoine Doinel
2Albert RémyJulien Doinel
3Claire MaurierGilberte Doinel - la mère d'Antoine
4Guy Decomble'Petite Feuille', the French teacher
  • One of the shining stars of the French New Wave 9/20/2004 12:00:00 AM by FilmOtaku 7

    Every day life, however 'real' and gritty it may be, is rarely portrayed on film and was certainly a rarity in the 1950's. In Europe however, there was a movement in film-making that embraced this realism and searched for the deeper meaning in the 'here and now'. This is about the most basic and miniscule portion of the meaning behind the French New Wave of the 1950's ? films that explored the filmmaker's surroundings, and eventually became an inspiration for filmmakers around the world. Francois Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows' is one of the most well-known films of this movement, and has been embraced and hailed as one of the greatest films of all time.

    After viewing Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows', I have been ruminating over the deeper meaning behind his story of Antoine Doinel, a 14 year old boy in Paris who is having trouble in school and trouble at home. In school, he is marginalized as a trouble-maker, yet it is obvious that it is more a matter of him causing trouble by expressing himself creatively rather than following along with mundane assignments. At home, Doinel has to deal with an adulterous mother who only pays attention to him when it suits her needs, and a father who is barely present. Doinel responds by doing the only thing he feels he can do, and that is by acting up; eventually earning an expulsion from school and being sent to a juvenile prison camp by his parents.

    Nothing is cut and dry in 'The 400 Blows'. If one were to take the film at face value, there would be a 'so what' feeling. What the film subtly explores is the disenfranchisement of youth. There is no joy in Doinel's life ? anytime he tries to express himself creatively or acts up in a playful way he is shot down and metaphorically forced back into line. This is not a typical Paris street kid either, this is one who reads Balzac for pleasure and conveys intense emotion. The problem is that no one is there to notice or care. Another aspect of the French New Wave was that the films were not merely a product of a Hollywood factory; these were intensely personal films to the writers and directors. In the case of 'The 400 Blows', it is certain that Doinel is based on Truffaut, himself only 28 when he made the film. Truffaut's cinematography in 'The 400 Blows' is exquisite. We see a Paris that is not in Technicolor with colorful fountains like 'An American in Paris'. This is Paris from a Parisian's perspective ? and the difference is breathtaking and intense. These are not Louis XVI style houses, they are tiny flats where people have to sleep in closets and walk up and down six flights of stairs. The city views are those of a native Parisian ? the kind of tour one would get if they asked the average Parisian for non-tourist attractions.

    There is still a lot that I have to learn and think about 'The 400 Blows' and French New Wave in general, but with the minute amount of understanding I have of it, I found it to be an intense film, one that left me emotional and craving enlightenment. Rarely is there a film that leaves that kind of impact on me, but Truffaut managed to leave me speechless and deep in thought with 'The Four Hundred Blows'.

    --Shel

  • A magnificent tale about childhood and the quest for liberty, masterfully shot 12/15/2000 12:00:00 AM by miguel_marques 7

    Les quatre-cents coups is the film that opens up the New Wave movement. I think many of the characteristics of the New Wave -as pointed out in class- can be inferred form the differences between the last film we saw in class, Carné's Les enfants du paradis, and this work by Truffaut: real life situations, no sets, everyday people. I have found in Les quatre-cents coups a brand new, refreshing and overwhelming cinema. But Les quatre-cents coups is also a dense, complicated film. Its autobiographical character makes it an encyclopedia of personal feelings, opinions and nuances of an introspection by Truffaut.

    Technically, the main differences between Truffaut and the previous cinema is the use of camera movements and angles. Although Renoir had made a witty and fresh use of traveling and long takes, Truffaut masters this technique as anyone else does. The camera moves smoothly, it nearly swings or floats from angle to angle following an action, as if the spectator was a ghost amid real life. Truffaut enjoys playing around with the camera: extremely long takes as we have never seen in any of the previous films: some of them in the classroom, other in Antoine's friend house, or a magnificent take at the end of the film in which we see Antoine, then a panoramic view and then Antoine again, running towards the sea. He also shoots from impossible angles, like those at the beginning from below the Tour Eiffel, or the nearly zenithal take following the jogging students in the streets. Or he teases us with the fake black out, when Antoine goes down the stairs to throw away garbage. Or shows us inner feelings through close-ups: the scene in which Antoine lies to his father telling him he did not take his map.

    However, I think that the most important difference between previous films and this one is the treatment of action. Truffaut is an observer, a photographer of soul. He takes a fiendish delight in shooting casual, long scenes: the boy tearing away his notebook pages; the whole sequence of Antoine's arrival at his empty home is excellent: the three reflexes in his mother's mirror -in which she will look afterwards, or Antoine combing his hair, laying the table. Also the spinning ride, or the long traveling following the escape of Antoine. They are long, but not slow. They keep tension up, as if everyday acts and decisions could be heroic and transmit the greatest interest and attraction. It looks like a documentary on human life! Some comments could be made about Antoine Doinel, alter ego of Truffaut. He is a very complicated character. The most curious thing about him is that he behaves like an adult: he acts, walks and talks like a man -especially if we compare him to his teachers or his father! However, at some times I think Truffaut describes himself as being not too witty: remember the candle in the hole on the wall, or how his friend convinces him to steal the typewriter and then makes him give it back, or how he innocently copies a whole paragraph from Balzac. He wants to be an artist, but he is not -not yet. This lack of wit and fatality -he is caught but everyone around him cheats as he does- leads him to a rebellion that grows stronger and stronger. This explain why he is such a rebel and not his friend, or the other children in the class, who live in the same social group.

    The main topic in Les quatre-cents coups is the quest for freedom, but not in the way Renoir looked at it, in fact is closer to L'Atalante by Vigo than to Renoir's La grande illusion, for example. Renoir is more concerned by social struggle and the liberty of the people. But Truffaut is more introspective, more intimate: indeed this film is the description of life attitude of an independent spirit through the autobiographical look of the author -this is cinéma d'auteur. We can find many elements from Truffaut's life in the film: a difficult family situation, problems at school, the Army, etc. These elements will appear throughout the film. Antoine, alter ego of Truffaut lives in the school, in his house, in the streets and finally in the juvenile detention center. In each one of these places he will find adverse situations he will have to overcome.

    The school The school is the first oppressing environment for Antoine. At the very beginning he is caught, by chance, with a pin-up calendar. This fatality will be recalled in Antoine's life later or -when he is caught by the porter giving the typewriter back, having been his friend's idea to steal it. He is a rebel, and nothing will refrain him from being so. He is punished, and he misbehaves again, writing in the wall an inspired poem. The school is the only place in which Truffaut makes a little bit of criticism, in this case against the education system: the three teachers are either cruel (the French teacher) or stupid (the English and Physical Education teachers).

    The house The house situation might be similar to that lived by Truffaut in real life. Her mother, a beautiful, egocentric and unscrupulous woman -sometimes sad, and old looking- who hates him. At the end of the film we discover that she did not want that child. This hatred and the attitude of his father -a smiley and cheerful but weak man- will add to the necessity of Antoine to flee. Truffaut gives us a Freudian wink: when his teacher asks him why he missed school, Antoine will sharply answer: 'My mom died!'

    The streets In the streets Antoine will find freedom, challenge, adulthood but also perversion: he becomes a man in a 13-year old boy body, little by little. But he will also become a criminal; together with his friend they will climb up in the scale of crime. He first skips classes. He and his friend stroll around the city, innocently. Then they begin an adult, abnormally rebel behavior: they make cars stop in the middle of the street, for example. The spinning ride is one of the few symbolic images in the film -that is another difference with Vigo and Renoir filmmaking. The scene of Antoine trying without success to fight against centrifuge force in a mad spinning trip really shocked me: he fights against reality and he is suffering, but he also has fun in it. Afterwards, he leaves home. . He will learn about solitude and indeed not a single word is heard in a long sequence. I really enjoyed the long, silent scene of the milk robbery. Antoine runs outlaw like an animal, we can feel loneliness, cold, hunger, sleepiness. It is another of those long, slow but at the same time agile scenes about casual acts: drinking a bottle of milk. At the end, the streets will make him a criminal. From the moment he is caught on, he is not treated as a child anymore. He wants to be an adult, and a spell will sort of be cast on him: he will be treated as such. It is significant when he is caught by the porter. He is told not to take off the hat, which made him look like an adult. From then on, he is treated roughly as if he was a man, especially in the police station.

    The prison And finally he arrives at the prison, which I think is the climax of oppression -we must remember the comparisons to the Army Truffaut detests. It is maybe the simplest of the scenarios, he find himself facing what he hates with no other possibility. The ending is a sublime anticlimax. After being punished for eating the bread, Antoine goes on 'normal' life within the detention center: he visits the psychologist -an ultimate introspection by Truffaut-, receives his mother and talk to his new friends and plays soccer. And suddenly, when we least expect it, he flees. He runs, runs, runs, the longest run I have ever seen, and the most exciting. He reaches the sea: his dream, and a symbol for eternity and absolute in poetry. He splashes into the water, he stops and looks back; the first time he looks right into the camera. This has got undoubtedly a deep and very personal meaning that maybe only the author knows. It is a pessimistic or an optimistic ending? I think it is above all an out-of-this-world ending. If the simple presence of the sea, Antoine's object of liberty, is overwhelming for the spectator, how should the character feel? I really liked the final traveling: we follow Antoine's run over the sand, but the camera is facing the inland, we are waiting to see the sea as much as Antoine is waiting to wet his feet. I do not really think that he is deceived, although his look into the camera is ambiguous. I think he stares at the spectator because he has realized what the truth is: the character is now out of the film. And the truth for him, I think, is this: I can reach freedom whenever I want, but absolute freedom is impossible to achieve. He is staring at us, but he is also looking back with a grave look: he might have seen his pursuer in the distance.

  • French cinema at its best 2/12/2006 12:00:00 AM by maax48 10

    Truffaut has worked wonders here, creating a masterful tale of a boy confused, troubled, and unloved. Antoine Doinel (played superbly by Jean-Pierre Léaud in the lead role) has strict, unfaithful parents, and a harsh, oppressive teacher, and falls into delinquency because of his unhappiness. He lies, steals, skips school and runs away from home, and soon ends up in a juvenile delinquency centre.

    Truffaut's inspiration for this film came from his own depressed childhood, so he bases Antoine on himself, including in terms of appearance. Being a 'New Wave' (a cinematographic movement of the sixties, involving directors who believed Hollywood films were too lavish and unreal) director, Truffaut always used a real location for the film, including breathtaking shots of Truffaut's native Paris. He also made a cameo in the film in the style of Hitchcock.

    Delinquance is the key theme here. Antoine, who is a character who believes in liberty and freedom, and the way he is always locked up is repressive for him, and this provokes a constant need for him to be out.

    Trying to make a realistic and moving film was Truffaut's aim, which, by watching this film, I realised that he had done amazingly well. Also, by combining humour and drama too, we have the defining French film of the 20th century. A black and white film that is full of colour. Bien sur, Fran?ois Truffaut.

  • Extraordiany Portrait Of A Parisian Youth - One Of The All Time Greats 6/12/2007 12:00:00 AM by jdnmevans 10

    In viewing Fran?ois Truffaut's The 400 Blows for perhaps the fifth time, I finally began to realize its true greatness. Inspired by the director's childhood, The 400 Blows (Truffaut's first film) is primarily about a young boy growing up with his mother and stepfather in Paris and apparently heading into a life of crime. Most adults see the boy as a troublemaker, but in the film, he is meant to be the protagonist.

    Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is the boy's name. He is resourceful, quiet, and does what he can to get by. At home, he has a struggling relationship with his parents, especially his mother. She is a woman of curious interests, always distracted by her incommodious son and a secret affair with a man from her job. Antoine's stepfather appears nice enough while treating his son as an equal in a good manner, although he is not really attached to him. However, both parents share common traits: they are away from home quite a bit and do not pay close enough attention to their son. Sadly enough, they only judge him by his behavior and by reports they get from other people.

    At school, Antoine's teacher classifies him as a menacing troublemaker. Not that it is entirely Antoine's fault, he just has terrible luck. In the opening scene of the film, we see a poster with a half-naked woman on the front being passed around quietly by the students. The teacher is sitting at his desk with his head down, grading papers, until the poster comes to Antoine and he finds it. He sends Antoine to the corner of the room, where he writes a note of resentment on the wall. As punishment for that, he is to diagram the exact words that he wrote. At home that night, Antoine's homework is interrupted. Because he did not complete it, his good friend René convinces him to skip school the next day, although Antoine is reluctant at first. They walk around France and notice Antoine's mother kissing a man that is not her husband. She and her son make eye contact, but René assures his friend that everything will be alright. The next morning, as the boys return to school, Antoine lies to his teacher and says the reason he missed school was that his mother died. Everything is alright until his mother, furious, arrives at school and her son is immediately identified as a liar.

    And yet, we see Antoine alone at home in some private, subtle, and hopeful moments. One of them being, his love for Balzac. He adores him, and we see him reading his biography and lighting a candle in a shrine in his honor at home. One day, at school, the students are proposed to write an essay on an important event in their life, and Antoine chooses the topic of his grandfather's death, in which he incorporates a phrase from his Balzac book. Alas, the teacher identifies this as plagiarism, and sends Antoine out of the classroom, along with René. The two boys stay at René's house for quite some time, living up to the expectations of a life of crime, until they steal a typewriter leaving Antoine caught trying to return it. He is later sent to a juvenile delinquent detention home.

    The 400 Blows is not meant to be a tragedy. Rather, it is a character study following Antoine Doinel's life and decisions he makes as a direct result of the many things going on in it. Even The 400 Blows captures a few moments of happiness joy. One of these is a priceless sequence in which a gym teacher is leading Antoine's class for a jog through Paris, not realizing that the boys are peeling off and running away two by two. There is another scene after Antoine's shrine for Balzac catches on fire and his parents are stressing and yelling at him. His mother suggests an outing to a movie theater, where they end up going. After the film, we see the trio in the car, laughing and reflecting on what they had seen. We see this as a moment of hope for Antoine and his family, for this being the only time they are all happy together.

    There are many poignant moments however, emerging late in the film after Antoine is caught for stealing the typewriter. His father is fed up with his behavior and escorts him to a police station where he is sent to a jail cell and later in a police wagon full of prostitutes and thieves, with his face peering through the bars, full of tears. His parents discuss with the authorities that they cannot not take him back because they believe he will only run away again. So, in turn, their son is taken to the juvenile delinquent school. These sequences express a reality of Antoine's life, in tune with the outcome of himself. He remains quiet and reserved towards the end of the film, as if he has nothing to say.

    The story of Antoine Doinel and his many experiences allow a life to be filled with curiosity and exploration. Every second of the ninety-nine minutes of the film is not wasted. Truffaut allows every minute to be overflowing with creativity while still maintaining the central story of the protagonist. It is not a film that can be taken lightly as a family movie to be watched every Saturday night. It is a film to be given plenty of thought, carefully examined, and given a conclusion. The genius of the film does not rely on that, moreover, it relies on how much is put into the film. Down to the smallest detail, the film is able to maneuver and progress. The story contains elements of sadness, regret, family, warmth, happiness, humor, values, and choices. Just like life itself.

  • Great Filmmaking by a Great Filmmaker 10/1/1999 12:00:00 AM by Stroheim-3 10

    The Four Hundred Blows is the semi-autobiographical story of Antoine Doinel, a boy trapped in a life of contemtptuous authority who turns to outward rebellion. Truffaut shows his mastery of the cinema in this, his freshman attempt.

    The film is perfectly cast with Dionel relaying neutral facial expressions for the majority of the film. The boy, although not necessarily evoking sympathy from the audience, definitely evokes empathy. He is a pathetic character forced into his position by his teacher and his almost uncaring mother.

    Throughout the film, Truffaut hints at the possibility of a happy life for the protagonist, but just as soon as the ideal is given to us, it is taken away. The mood shifts in the film are fabulously orchestrated through contrasting scenes, music, and even acting. From the opening sequence through the final, enigmatic still shot, the movie is a masterpiece of both French and world cinema. It is a must see.

#PersonCrew
1Henri Decaëcinematographer
2Jean Constantincomposer
3François Truffautdirector
4Marie-Josèphe Yoyotteeditor
5Marcel Moussywriter