Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The 400 Blows in 400 words

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.


  1. I'm planning a French New Wave Week in November and this is one of the films I want to write about, so I'm glad to get your perspective as a first-timer. My knowledge of these films is a little bit spotty, but I suspect looking at them within the context of history is important.

  2. I have been wanting to get into the French New Wave cinema for some time now, especially Truffaut...

  3. Of the 2 films plus two shorts by Truffaut that I've seen. This is my favorite Truffaut film so far. I was into the story of Antoine Doinel and I hope to get that Doinel box set soon. I just like the fact that it's about a kid who is just a kid going through hard times at home and trying to act out. The other film Truffaut film that I've seen is Jules & Jim.

  4. I'm getting rather worried about the low brow nature of my recommendation.

  5. @Rich – I think the film works without having the historical significance, though I am sure having that knowledge makes things even better. Having never taking a film class in University, which is funny consider that I watched more films than my roommates who actually did their degrees in film, I can only base my reactions on my initial encounter with the film.

    @Lim(ette) – Yep I have meaning to explore it more myself but kept procrastinating on it.

    @thevoid – I read that there are a series of Antoine Doinel films. I am interested to see what becomes of the character. My have to try and seek them out. Jules & Jim is another one that I have heard a lot about but have not seen. It is currently one of the films in The Must See List series.

    @Dan – There is no such thing as low brow recommendations. Keep in mind that The Human Centipede, Troll 2, JD’s Revenge, The Room, and Alluda Mazaaka (which is famous for this scene) are all on the list. Frankly I welcome the low brow stuff just as much as the high brow.

    If you have any more suggestions please pass them along. There are still some spots available, plus I could use a few more flicks from the 70’s and 80’s.

  6. I blogged abut this movie a while ago and my interpretation of the ending is that Truffaut wanted to make a generational film, and characters like Antoine represent all the baby boom kids whose lives are still that volatile.

    But you know why this movie is awesome? Because it allows for erudition and making film critics and writers better than me use big words yet will make me go 'Yo, that kid's such a punk!' and when he does get reprimanded for being a punk, you feel so bad but it is difficult to rein in a child without taking away his freedom and his soul. This paragraph is also applicable to The Tree of Life.

  7. @Paolo – You are right, the film does not allow for catchphrase styles of reviews. It really does challenge us all to contemplate things on a bigger level. I also felt that the punishment was rather harsh despite thinking “this kid needs serious discipline” twenty minutes earlier.

  8. I need to watch this. It has been on my to-watch list [in my brain]. This review reminds me again. MUST WATCH TRUFFAUT

  9. @Simoncolmb - I really need to get into more Truffaut myself. The 400 Blows is a good place to start though, I hear it sets the tone for his body of work nicely.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.