The 400 Blows

Movies

Once again, watching the BFI’s 50 Greatest Films of All Time in chronological order has been an enlightening experience. François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows feels like a logical progression from Bicycles Thieves to Journey to Italy to Pather Panchali. On the one hand, the list has numerous big production films like Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Samurai, and Vertigo. On the other, we have these smaller, more intimate and immediate films and The 400 Blows in an exceptional example of such.

The story is simple: Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a boy of about 12, comes from a troubled home and finds no comfort at school where his teacher frequently harasses him. Given little positive reinforcement, Doinel acts out, committing petty crimes, running away from home, and lying to authority figures. His parents, at a loss as what to do with him, eventually agree to have him shipped off to a juvenile detention center.

Léaud reprises this role in later Truffaut films and he convinces here, with his naturalistic and often improvised performance, as the trouble youth. One cannot help but feel for him as one adult after another fails him all but forcing him to misbehave. It was interesting watching this around the same time as Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. Both are emotionally engaging stories of young boys who get into trouble and both directors continued the stories of these boys later in life in subsequent films.

The 400 Blows, based on Truffaut’s life, is often regarded as the first French new wave film and displays many techniques often identified with the movement. The 400 Blows is an intensely personal, low budget film, one that doesn’t sugarcoat life’s hardships.

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