The 400 Blows (1959)

The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups)
Directed by Francois Truffaut400-blows-poster
Written by Francois Truffaut and Marcel Moussy
1959/France
Les Films de Carrosse/Sedif Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#356 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Truffaut captures the giddy freedom of adolescence along with its worries and sadness.

The story is loosely based on Truffaut’s own past as a neglected youth whose juvenile rebellion gets him in nothing but trouble.  Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), Truffaut’s surrogate, is a thirteen-year-old Parisian.  He lives in a cramped apartment with his mother and her husband, whom we gradually learn is not the boy’s father.  Between their work, the mother’s extramarital affair, and simple selfishness, they have little time for their son.  For Antoine’s part, he steals from them when he can to get money for the days when he plays hooky from school.  These days are filled with movies, a visit to an amusement park, and exploration in the streets of Paris.

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Antoine’s extracurricular activities necessitate many lies to both his parents and school authorities.  He is always found out.  Finally, the boy’s misconduct prompts his parents to agree to send him to an “observation camp”, which looks suspiciously like juvenile detention.

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The film tells a relatively sad story but it is the pranks of the various boys that stick out in my memory.  Truffaut has an instinctive understanding of children.  Scenes where boys peel off in groups during an escort’s march through the city and rapt young children at a puppet show are particularly memorable.  Truffaut was blessed to have discovered the perfect Antoine, a child actor that is deeply sympathetic without exhibiting a trace of “cuteness.”

The cinematography is glorious.  I like the way the shooting combines improvisation with stunning formal shots.  One in which Antoine is surrounded by no less than three different mirrors is pretty jaw-dropping.  The music is fine as well.  Highly recommended,

The 400 Blows was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Material Written Directly for the Screen.

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