The 400 Blows (1959)

Now, Doinel, go get some water and erase those insanities, or I’ll make you lick the wall, my friend.

— Petite Feuille

People have been urging me to watch François Truffaut’s film, The 400 Blows, which is currently the #225 Film of All-Time on IMDb. Apparently, Truffaut was instrumental in the French New Wave movement where the characters felt genuine and not manufactured. Not having any earthly idea what the movie was about. I was surprised that Turner Classic Movies was showing it. It was my lucky day. I watched this movie in the early morning hours. I was quite impressed with it.

The story follows a troubled young man named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) living in a small Parisian apartment with his exacerbated mother, Gilberte (Claire Maurier) and his easy-going father, Julien (Albert Rémy). Trouble seems to find its way to Antoine when his teacher, Petite Feuille aka Sourpuss (Guy Decomble) catches him with a pin-up calendar in his hands. He is made an example when he had to stand in the corner while his classmates enjoy recess. He scribbles a phrase on the classroom walls, which gets him in more trouble.

Gilberte is always short with Antoine, because of his bad behavior in school. She has to be a mother, a cook and be able to work a part time job all at the same time. Julien tries to inject some humor in their gloomy situation. Antoine has to sleep in a cot next to the kitchen.

The next day, Antoine is late for school when his schoolmate, René (Patrick Auffay) tells him to skip school with him. He decides to tagalong on a day venture, which cumulated with catching his mother kissing another man out on the street. Asked what he had done that day, Antoine told his father a lie. He never told him about his mother. Later that night, his mother leaves word that she will be working late and doesn’t come home until Antoine’s bedtime. The parents get into a screaming match about something unrelated.

Another schoolmate blows the whistle on Antoine’s lie when he knocks on the door the next morning. Unbeknownst to Antoine, he let another lie spill out about a death in the family. His parents swap personalities all of sudden, but that does not deter Antoine from falling into a downward spiral.

At first, I thought this movie was about the boy growing up as a petty thief. After the movie was over, I come to realize that this movie is part of a series of five films that followed Antoine Doniel throughout his life young life. I’m getting the itch to see what happens next to Antoine. I’m not saying that the movie is a masterpiece, but it was certainly a ride that I will never forget.

Judgment: If you are unfamiliar with Truffaut, this is a good place to start.

Rating: ****

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About Branden

Branden: I am just your average movie nut that reviews films. Gives his take on pop culture and Hollywood happenings. Dreams to have his own thriving website and make a living doing what he is passionate about.

Posted on July 7, 2010, in 1959, Academy Award Nominee, Crime, Drama, Foreign Language, Running Feature, The Criterion Collection, Top 250 of All Time on IMDB and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. It is a grand film. I am glad you enjoyed it. I’ve always kind of been a fan of the french New Wave stuff, so I had pretty big expectations with this when I first saw it, especially given the hype for it.

    It is a great place to start for Truffant and French cinema for sure. Nice write up.

    • Antoine was a very misunderstood boy. If things could have been different with the teacher or his parents, his life wouldn’t go into the path it went. Other the other hand, Antoine had makes his choices without knowing the consequences. It makes the film very sad.

  2. There are certain things that the French cinema does well and Truffant is one of them.

    • I’m not saying that French cinema is critic proof, but I love the older movies instead of the newer ones lately.

  3. I hate to rain on the parade but I hate pre-Fahrenheit 451Truffaut – I find his early films petulant, pretentious. But starting with Fahrenheit 451, I see a genius evolving. I think he got better with age. My favorite Truffaut film is Mississippi Mermaid; a brilliant tribute to Hitchcock’s cinema.

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