In 1959, Francois Truffaut released a semibiographical film about his life with “the 4oo blows” (Les quatre cents coups). A film highly regarded as a definitive film that showcases French New Wave (a term to describe a group of French filmmakers in the 1950’s-1960’s that were inspired by classic Hollywood cinema and Italian Neorealism).
The film won several awards which include “Best Director Award” at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and “Best Original Screenplay” at the 32nd Annual Academy Awards. Needless to say, the film made Francois Truffaut and young actor Jean-Pierre Léaud Internationally known and definitely gave movie fans a taste of the French New Wave film.
“the 400 blows” is the first of five films spanning around 20 years based on the character of Antoine Doinel (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud). Each film showcases the character’s life as a teenager through his 30’s but for “the 400 blows”, the film focuses on the life of a troubled teenager.
Although not based 100% on Director Francois Truffaut’s real life, a large part of the film was based on his troubled family life and in order for him to capture that life he had, he picked the right person with Jean-Pierre Leaud, an unknown actor (who was just as an antisocial loner) who was 13 and a half years old but had that rebellious nature that Truffaut found. A boy who would not have to learn a script but to use his his own words. This added to the realism of the film and what made this film so fantastic and engrossing just to watch.
the 400 blows” is one of those films that surprised me from beginning to end. It’s not that I haven’t seen classic films that seem realistic but I found the film quite enjoyable in the fact that the film really goes in-depth in the life of a Parisian youth who does bad things but that the connection between bad/or lack of thereof, parenting can be to blame.
Jean-Pierre Léaud is simply fantastic as Antoine Doinel and that is because Director Francois Truffaut allows him to be himself. As Jean-Pierre Léaud has commented himself, he is very much like Antoine in some respects and he eventually puts his trust in Truffaut to capture his emotion and his focal point through the camera. If anything, to make this character come out alive and in that sense, Truffaut succeeds and Léaud is magnificent.
Claire Maurier (who plays Antoine’s mother Gilberte Doinel) is surprising in her role as a cold mother. She’s one of those mothers who has her life hampered with having a child but tries to live her free life as if she didn’t have a child. There is a strong disconnection between mother and son but how quickly she tries to change when her son catches her with another man. Claire Maurier does a fine job with her role. As with Albert Remy as Julien Doinel. The busy at work father who has more leeway towards Antoine but is not quick to be cold to his son like his mother. It’s just when the trust is broken between father and son, is when you see Julien having to do things that he doesn’t want to do and in essence becomes more like his wife.
There is a significant reveal at the end of the film of why Antoine does the things that he does but what the film does quite well at is showing how derelict parents can affect a child’s behavior. Letting a child to do what he wants and there are no responsibilities but taking out the garbage. There is no love in the family and thus, it has a cause and effect towards Antoine.
Truffaut is simply a legendary director for helping catapult the French New Wave. With its similarities to Western classic films and Italian Neorealism in terms of really depicting the life of the poor in France, Truffaut gives us a glimpse of what his life was like. How he watched films when he ditched from school and just his overall experiences and troubles he had endured. When he’s lying, he is treated badly at home and at school. When he’s telling the truth, there is no difference. And for any parent, this is a true injustice for a child who needs that motivation that they can prevail, that they are wanted and they can succeed. And unfortunately, that was not the case for Antoine at 14-years-old.
Overall, “the 400 blows” is a Truffaut masterpiece that must be watched if you are a true cineaste!