The 400 Blows (7/14/12)

400 BlowsMovie One Hundred Sixty Six

The 400 Blows is a semi-autobiographic look at François Truffaut’s difficult childhood.

Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a 12 year living in Paris with his mother and step-father. He does not do well in school and suffers at home. Both his parents and teacher think he is uncaring and Antoine constantly runs away. After unsuccessfully stealing a typewriter from his father’s workplace, Antoine is forced into jail, imprisoned with prostitutes and other hardened criminals. Antoine is then shipped off to a school for troubled youth, where he gives some insight to his life before deciding to flee once more.

I normally don’t give the full plot details of a film but in the case of The 400 Blows, I do not consider any of the above to be a spoiler. The plot points are not what defines the film so much as how the characters behave. Antoine’s question and answer session near the end of the film is heartbreaking and beautiful and easily one of the best scenes in film history.

A landmark film of the French New Wave, Truffaut’s film was widely successful from the start but over 50 years later, the film is still just as touching now. The cinematography is also such a wonder to behold, as the shots pan and track so precisely yet appear almost casual. The 400 Blows is an absolutely breathtaking film. The actors, particularly young Léaud, whom was used in several other Truffaut films reprising his role, are all remarkable.

To truly do The 400 Blows justice, I would need to devote a heavily detailed breakdown of individual shots and scenes. An easier method would be watching the film yourself, I truly believe it’s a must-see. If French New Wave films have turned you off before, or if you are new the genre, The 400 Blows is the perfect place to start.

I give it 5 reading Balzacs out of 5.

PS – In case you were wondering, apparently the French title, Les quatre cents coups, refers to the expression “faire les quatre cents coups” roughly translated to mean “to raise hell”.

Links:

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24 responses to “The 400 Blows (7/14/12)

  1. I love this film. It was the first subtitled foreign language film I can remember seeing and it effected me in a way no other movie quite did. Until that point, I was more into spectacle and special effects, and “The 400 Blows” made me understand that a movie could also be very human and connect to an audience in a non-exploitational way.

    Thanks for explaining the title. I always thought it metaphorically had to do with the “blows” that life dealt the young protagonist.

  2. Great review of one of my favorite movies ever. Probably my favorite foreign language film in fact. And thanks for the postscript. I’ve always wondered what the significance of the title is. It’s amazing how great Truffaut did for his directorial debut.

  3. I think it’s odd/interesting that the title would be directly translated into English despite it having no idiomatic meaning in English. What is the meaning of the title to an English speaker?

    • I thought it was interesting too, especially since it gives the film a totally different feel. My first thought was that it was just failed marketing for a foreign movie and they didn’t want to be bothered but it could just be an artistic thing and Truffaut didn’t want it changed. None of the special features on the Criterion release addressed it that I noticed.

  4. I saw this movie for the first time during my first year of French class in high school. I didn’t get it then. Revisited it again in my first year of college and was blown away. Léaud’s performance was great because he managed to communicate to us the alienation that his character felt because Antoine couldn’t meet society’s expectations of him.

  5. I did my top 10 Criterion films a year and a half ago and included 400 Blows. I have seen at least two dozen Criterion titles since; if I did the list now it would look considerably different. However 400 Blows (and a couple others) would be one that would remain on the list. It’s funny, moving and well acted. When Antoine stares into the camera at the end of the film I got misty.

    • The ending is considerably powerful and I think 400 Blows would be at the top of my Criterion list.
      Speaking of which…
      I should really do my top Criterion picks since I own so many of them. I may have to steal that idea from you :P

      • You absolutely should! I stole the idea from John over at The Droid You’re Looking For! I actually did a contest around my list (gave away the Criterion dvd for Repulsion and Videodrome).

  6. Pingback: My July Movies Round-Up | Andy Watches Movies

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