The 400 Blows (1959)

Director:  Francois Truffaut 
Cast:  Jean-Pierre LéaudClaire MaurierAlbert Rémy 
Plot:  The story of a misunderstood young adolescent who left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime.

Genre:  Crime / Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Screenplay.  Won Best Director and nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes)
Runtime:  99min

Rating:  PG 

Francois Truffaut’s films have been a sound influence on the progress of cinema for decades.  From the late 1950s to the late 1970s, his body of work has continuously revealed the essence and retained the innocence of humanity through fresh, uncluttered images and enthusiastic, lucid filmmaking.

The 400 Blows marked the debut of the leading French New Wave director and was also the first of five films in a series featuring semi-autobiographical works starring Jean-Pierre Leaud whom played Truffaut’s alter ego Antoine Doinel.
The 400 Blows tells the story of young Doinel, who is neglected by his mother and stepfather, and is sent to reform school because of appalling behavior – playing truant, disrespecting teachers, and committing petty crimes.

 Remarkably portrayed by the astounding Leaud, the character Doinel is at once a figure of disgust and sympathy;  Leaud tackles the emotional vulnerability of a delinquent with aplomb.  The film is also a critique of 1960s French society where education was insufficiently emphasized and where family bonding was lacking. 

As we follow Doinel through the bustling streets of Paris seeking the independence that he desires, we realize that the choices people make during their adolescence can significantly frame their understanding and belief of a culture in which they can either assimilate into or stray away from.

The 400 Blows devotes itself to the observation of the latter.  Filmed in black-and-white, Truffaut gave the film a free-wheeling quality as if paralleling the downward spiral of Doinel’s increasingly troubled life.  

There is a well-executed sequence in the film which shows a fitness teacher leading a class of students out for a jog along the streets.  Every turn and corner sees a few scuttling away in the opposite direction. Some hide behind parked cars, some scurry off into an alley.  What does this say about the French society? 

Truffaut understood troubled youths because he was one himself.  The 400 Blows allowed him to explore his past and bring a closure to an important chapter of his life.  Which is why the final sequence of the film remains one of the most revered moments in cinema:  Doinel runs towards the sea like a deer released from captivity, relishing the newfound freedom and independence, and perhaps the hopeful life that awaits him… before turning back to look at the camera in a zoom-in freeze frame shot that alerted the world to the talent of a truly colossal cinematic figure. 

Francois Truffaut was only 27 then. 


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Last viewing - Apr 2018




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