A landmark film in the modern era and the film conveyed the beginning of New-Wave and François Truffaut from a critic into one of the world’s most distinguished film makers.
Akira Kurosawa termed this movie as ‘One of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen.’ and critics the world over, The 400 Blows is an extraordinary debut and helped launch the French New Wave – films by new directors like Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Louis Malle, Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda all appeared between 1958 and 1960.
Written by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, the film is about Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood adolescent in Paris who is thought by his parents and teachers to be a troublemaker. Filmed on location in Paris and Honfleur- The 400 Blows received numerous awards and nominations, including the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director, the OCIC Award, and a Palme d’Or nomination in 1959. The film was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing in 1960.The 400 Blows is the most successful film in his home country.
This movie is about Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a young boy growing up in Paris during the early 1950s. Misunderstood at home by his parents and tormented in school by his insensitive teacher (Guy Decomble), Antoine frequently runs away from both places. The boy finally quits school after being caught plagiarizing Balzac by his teacher. He steals a typewriter from his stepfather’s (Albert Remy) work place to finance his plans to leave home, but is apprehended while attempting to return it.
The stepfather angrily turns Antoine over to the police and Antoine spends the night in jail, sharing a cell with prostitutes and thieves. During an interview with the judge, Antoine’s mother confesses that Antoine’s father is not his biological father. Antoine is placed in an observation center for troubled youths near the shore (as per his mother’s wishes). A psychiatrist at the center probes Antoine’s unhappiness, which he reveals in a fragmented series of monologues.
One day, while playing football with the other boys, Antoine escapes under a fence and runs away to the ocean, a place he has wanted to visit his entire life. He reaches the shoreline of the sea and runs into it. The film concludes with a freeze-frame of Antoine, and then the camera optically zooms in on his face, looking into the camera.
The 400 Blows’ is more than semi-autobiographical. Both Antoine and the young Truffaut were social outcasts – failures at school, who turned to delinquency, ran away from home, and ended up in custody. But most significantly, as would become apparent throughout Truffaut’s career, the one thing that made their lives worth living was their passion for cinema.
This movie gives you the insight of a wonderful story telling and the characterization (by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy), the direction (Truffaut) and the cinematography (by Henri Decaë) are top class.
I found myself appreciating, at many instances during the film, the combination of these three. For example, the scene where Antoine is lying in his cramped little bed and listening to his parents yelling at each other: a powerful scene, made all the more so because the parents aren’t shown. We can hear their voices in the background, but we see only Antoine. The flicker of pain in his face as he hears the harsh words his mother uses for him, the anguish. There are no tears, no howling, just a subtle and understated reinforcement of Antoine’s realization (or re-realization; he is no fool) that he is unwanted
Then there are the amazing little frames that say so much without saying anything. René, come to visit Antoine at a juvenile detention home, rides away on his bicycle, whistling, carefree, and free besides the scene which mesmerized me is the children watching a puppet show. Antoine and René, bunking school, are sitting at the back and chatting. They are the older children, the ones who aren’t paying attention to the puppets. The ones in front, the toddlers, the younger children are the ones on whom Truffaut pays attention, and they’re utterly captivating, because this is so much upstaged.
There’s curiosity, laughter, fear, even almost-tears on these little faces as they watch the puppet show (I’m guessing Truffaut used an actual show and managed to sneak a candid camera in somewhere; these children are certainly not acting).
All in all little details that show Antoine’s life as a child is very capsizing from a small next door kid slipping into a life of petty crime and drifting away from the straight and narrow, but Antoine is still a child, taking delight in such small things as getting dizzy in a rotating drum, shooting arrows from a gable, or calling out “Bon jour, madame!” to a priest passing by with his cassock swirling around his ankles.
Jean-Pierre Léaud in his debut role as Antoine Doinel is excellent and the depth of feeling that is imbued in the story by both Truffaut and Marcel Moussy is a treat to watch, a memorable evening indeed……..
- Directed by François Truffaut
- Produced by François Truffaut & Georges Charlot
- Written by François Truffaut & Marcel Moussy
- Casting: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy & Claire Maurier
- Music by Jean Constantin
- Cinematography Henri Decaë
- Editing by Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte
- Studio-Les Films du Carrosse
- Distributed by Cocinor
- Release dates: 4 May 1959 (France)
- Running time of 99 minutes
- Country: France
- Language: French