The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959): France

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed on Turner Classic Movies.

The 400 Blows

Les Quatre Cents Coups or The 400 Blows refers to boys raising hell in their youth.  It is a simple yet sensitive film about a boy named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), in his early teens, who is drastically misunderstood by both his parents and teachers.

Antoine’s academic potential is criminally overlooked, as he is instead reprimanded severely by his teacher for acting up in class.  He and his friend Rene then seize the opportunity to skip school on several occassions seeking amusement park rides or the cinema.

Antoine lives in a small flat with his mother and stepfather.  Money is tight, and Antoine must sleep in a tiny nook just off of the kitchen, on a small cot with a sleeping bag.

His irresponsible parents that spend large chunks of time away from home and their son, expect a lot from Antoine, who is surprisingly not a very demanding child.  His mother is frigid and uncaring, until Antoine catches her with another man besides his father, and suddenly she begins to show interest in her son, even to the point of bribery.

In an attempt to make easy money (and probably a cry for attention), Antoine steals a typewriter from his father’s office, fails to pawn it, returns it and then gets busted.  Subsequently,  in a confusing attempt to teach Antoine a lesson, his parents request that he be placed in a detention center, but close to the ocean since he has never seen it before.

Jean-Pierre Leaud exudes a desperate loneliness from his character Antoine, who just wants to break free from his bleak surroundings.

The 400 Blows is the first in a string of films that Leaud would appear in for Francois Truffaut, and loosely based on the filmmaker’s youth.  Overcoming his difficult and depressing childhood, Truffaut dropped out of school and after many  trials and tribulations went on to become first a film critic and then a renowned filmmaker.

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