The 400 Blows
Set in early 1950s France, The 400 Blows revolves around Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a mischievous young boy who cannot seem to keep out of trouble. When Antonie is not getting in trouble with his teacher, the aptly nicknamed Sourpuss (Guy Decomble), he is skipping school and getting into problems on the streets. Antonie’s father, Julien (Albert Rémy), thinks he needs stricter discipline yet his mother, Gilberte (Claire Maurier), who treats Antonie like her personal servant instead of her son, is far more willing to let things slide. She is more lenient because Antonie has information that she does not want to get out. Yet when Antonie takes his antics too far, he is forced to face the consequences of his actions.
The 400 Blows is my first foray into the French New Wave genre, which is probably why I was not blown away by director François Truffaut’s debut film like most cinephiles. While I did quite enjoy the film, I just wish the film was a bit tighter in certain scenes. It is obvious that what Truffaut was doing was groundbreaking for his time, and I could see how it changed the way people looked at form in cinema, but I felt the middle section of the film really meandered. My love for the character of Antonie really started to slide a bit in this section as Truffaut spends too much time focusing on his mischief in the streets.
What I did enjoy was the intricate dynamics between Antonie and both of his parents. Truffaut is clearly working out issues from his youth through the film as it has an authentic feel throughout. He really captures the feel of that period. The strongest aspect of the film for me is the third act from the time Antonie is in the jail cell to the abrupt ending. This is where everything that Truffaut hints at throughout the film bubbles up to the surface. Would I recommend The 400 Blows to others? Yes, not only because of its historical importance in regards to helping usher in French New Wave cinema, but also because The 400 Blows is a good film. I would recommend keeping your expectations modest thought and not to go in expecting an instant masterpiece. Having said that, who knows, maybe I will grow to appreciate the film more as I delve further into the French New Wave genre.
The 400 Blows is part of our The Must See List series.