The 400 Blows (1959)

400 blows poster 1959 movie francois truffaut
10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great looking, great cast, simplistic

Don't expect a plot driven movie

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The 400 Blows

Studio:   Les Films du Carrosse

Genre(s):   Drama

Release Date(s):   May 4, 1959

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

400 blows stolen typewriter antoine doinel jean pierre leaud

Stolen milk yester, a typewriter today…tomorrow a car?

Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a problem child.  Roaming the streets of Paris with his friends, he robs, steals, skips school, vandalizes things, and no punishment seems to change him.  At home, his mother (Claire Maurier) is sometimes distant and in a broken relationship with the man who raised him (Albert Rémy).  Antoine wants out and he’ll fight kicking and screaming which could only make it worse.

Written and directed by François Truffaut (with additional scripting by Marcel Moussy), The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) is Truffaunt’s first film.  The semi-autobiographical film was released to critical acclaim and won the Best Director and the OCIC Award with a nomination for the Palme d’Or.  The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and was one of the first films released by the Criterion Collection (Criterion #5).

The 400 Blows is one of those films that is the pinnacle of foreign films.  The movie’s title evokes famous films like La Dolce Vita and Wild Strawberries.  If you watch The 400 Blows, it is a rather simple film on the outside, but below the surface, the film has a lot of meaning and depth.

400 blows mother claire maurier jean pierre leaud

Moments of mothering

The film’s title is a bit misunderstood because it doesn’t translate to English well.  In French the term means to raise hell and that is what Antoine is doing at a young age.  He’s on a dangerous slope that is going to crash if things don’t change.  In a lot of ways his parents are doing the right stuff.  They engage him about school, they punish him (or attempt to), and they do spend time with him, but it doesn’t seem to matter.  The character is lost and though kind of based on Truffaut’s childhood, it also drew real comparisons to youth in France at the time the film was released…who grew up to a kind of counter-culture hippie movement in the late ’60s in France.

Part of what works in the film is the acting.  Jean-Pierre Léaud is very natural and feels like a real kid.  The scene that nails it for me occurs near the end when he’s being questioned at military school about his life and if he’s ever been sexually active.  His response is entirely natural and the look he gives the interviewer is a kid’s look…despite talking about adult subjects.  Claire Maurier also excels as his mother who honestly seems to want the best for Antoine, but also has resentment toward him since he is so free and he is the reason she became “trapped” in her current life.

400 blows ending antoine doinel jean pierre leaud

I did it! Now what?

The movie is set in a very real Paris and later in a French countryside.  Truffaut captures the city in the style of the film, but also manages to have a lot of stylized shots (like the overhead shot of the gym instructor slowly losing his whole class while out on a jog).  The classic ending shot of Antoine finally reaching the ocean is also memorable…it doesn’t really provide answers (because there might not be any).

The 400 Blows is pretty art house in nature and isn’t for everyone.  The movie is character driven and not very plot driven though the plot is buried in the character and his actions.  It is a must for any pursuer of film.  Truffaut continued checking in on Antoine throughout his life in films and ended up doing four films about him.  Truffant revisited Antoine in the short Antoine and Collette which was part of the anthology film Love at Twenty in 1962.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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