The 400 Blows (1959)

Movie


The 400 Blows (1959)
Les quatre cents coups (original title)

Seemingly in constant trouble at school, 14-year-old Antoine Doinel returns at the end of every day to a drab, unhappy home life. His parents have little money and he sleeps on a couch that's been pushed into the kitchen. His parents bicker constantly and he knows his mother is having an affair. He decides to skip school and begins a downward spiral of lies and theft. His parents are at their wits' end, and after he's stopped by the police, they decide the best thing would be to let Antoine face the consequences. He's sent to a juvenile detention facility where he doesn't do much better. He does manage to escape however.
France
IMDb   8.1 /10
TheMovieDb    8.1 /10
RottenTomatoes  98 %
FilmAffinity   8.1 /10
Information
Release Date1959-06-03
Runtime1h 39mins
GenreCrime, Drama
Content RatingNot Rated (Not Rated)
AwardsTop Rated Movies #224 | Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 10 wins & 6 nominations.
CompanyLes Films du Carrosse, Sédif Productions
CountryFrance
LanguageFrench, English
Gilberte Doinel - la mère d'Antoine
Julien Doinel
'Petite Feuille', the French teacher
Betrand Mauricet
Un enfant / Child
Un enfant / Child
Un enfant / Child
Un enfant / Child
Un enfant / Child (as Henry Moati)
Un enfant / Child
Un enfant / Child

The 400 Blows

The 400 Blows (French: Les Quatre Cents Coups) is a 1959 French New Wave drama film, and the directorial debut of François Truffaut. The film, shot in DyaliScope, stars Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, and Claire Maurier. One of the defining films of the French New Wave, it displays many of the characteristic traits of the movement. Written by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, the film is about Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood adolescent in Paris who struggles with his parents and teachers due to his rebellious behavior. Filmed on location in Paris and Honfleur, it is the first in a series of five films in which Léaud plays the semi-autobiographical character.

The 400 Blows received numerous awards and nominations, including the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director, the OCIC Award, and a Palme d'Or nomination in 1959, and was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1960. The film had 4.1 million admissions in France, making it Truffaut's most successful film in his home country.

The 400 Blows is widely considered one of the best French films in the history of cinema; in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll of the greatest films ever made, it was ranked 39th. It ranked 13th in the directors' poll on the same list.


Plot

Antoine Doinel is a young boy growing up in Paris. Misunderstood by his parents for playing truant from school and stealing, and tormented in school for discipline problems by his teacher (such as writing on the classroom wall, and later falsely explaining his absence as having been due to his mother's death), Antoine frequently runs away from both places. He finally quits school after his teacher accuses him of plagiarizing Balzac. (Antoine loves Balzac and in a school essay he describes "the death of my grandfather", in a close paraphrase of Balzac from memory.) He steals a Royal typewriter from his stepfather's workplace to finance his plans to leave home, but, having been unable to sell it, is apprehended while trying to return it.

The stepfather turns Antoine over to the police and Antoine spends the night in jail, sharing a cell with prostitutes and thieves. During an interview with the judge, Antoine's mother confesses that her husband is not Antoine's biological father. Antoine is placed in an observation center for troubled youths near the seashore (as his mother wished). A psychologist at the center probes reasons for Antoine's unhappiness, which the youth reveals in a fragmented series of monologues.

While playing football with the other boys one day, Antoine escapes under a fence and runs away to the ocean, which he has always wanted to see. He reaches the shoreline of the sea and runs into it. The film concludes with a freeze-frame of Antoine, and the camera optically zooms in on his face, looking into the camera.


Cast

  • Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel
  • Albert Rémy as Julien Doinel, Antoine's stepfather
  • Claire Maurier as Gilberte Doinel, Antoine's mother
  • Guy Decomble as Sourpuss, School teacher
  • Patrick Auffay as René Bigey, Antoine's best friend
  • Georges Flamant as Monsieur Bigey, René's father
  • Pierre Repp as an English teacher
  • Daniel Couturier as Betrand Mauricet
  • Luc Andrieux as Le professeur de gym
  • Robert Beauvais as director of the school
  • Yvonne Claudie as Mme Bigey
  • Marius Laurey as L'inspecteur Cabanel
  • Claude Mansard as the examining magistrate
  • Jacques Monod as commissioner
  • Henri Virlojeux as the night watchman
  • Jeanne Moreau as a woman looking for her dog
  • Jean-Claude Brialy as a man trying to pick up a woman

Truffaut also included a number of friends (fellow directors) in bit or background parts, including: himself and Philippe De Broca in the funfair scene; Jacques Demy as a policeman; Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Paul Belmondo as overheard voices (Belmondo's in the print works scene).


Production

Title

The English title is a literal translation of the French that fails to capture its meaning, as the French title refers to the idiom "faire les quatre cents coups", meaning "to raise hell". On the first prints in the United States, subtitler and dubber Noelle Gillmor translated the title as Wild Oats, but the distributor Zenith did not like that and reverted it to The 400 Blows.

Themes

The semi-autobiographical film reflects events of Truffaut's life. In style, it references other French works—most notably a scene borrowed wholesale from Jean Vigo's Zéro de conduite. Truffaut dedicated the film to the man who became his spiritual father, André Bazin, who died just as the film was about to be shot.

Besides being a character study, the film is an exposé of the injustices of the treatment of juvenile offenders in France at the time.

According to Annette Insdorf writing for the Criterion Collection, the film is "rooted in Truffaut’s childhood." This includes how both Antoine and Truffaut "found a substitute home in the movie theater" and both did not know their biological fathers.

Filming locations

Most of The 400 Blows was filmed in Paris:

  • Avenue Frochot, Paris 9th
  • Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, Paris 7th
  • Montmartre, Paris 18th
  • Palais de Chaillot, Trocadéro, Paris 16th
  • Pigalle, Paris 9th
  • Rue Fontaine
  • Sacré Cœur, Paris 18th

The exception was the closing reform school part, filmed in Honfleur, a small coastal town in the northern French province of Normandy.


Reception

The film opened the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and was widely acclaimed, winning numerous awards, including the Best Director Award at Cannes, the Critics Award of the 1959 New York Film Critics' Circle and the Best European Film Award at 1960's Bodil Awards. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 32nd Academy Awards. The film holds a 98% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 65 reviews, with a weighted average of 9.3/10. The website's critical consensus states, "A seminal French New Wave film that offers an honest, sympathetic, and wholly heartbreaking observation of adolescence without trite nostalgia."

The film is among the top 10 of the British Film Institute's list of 50 films that should be seen by age 15.


Awards and nominations

YearAssociationCategoryTitleResultRef.
1959Cannes Film FestivalPalme d'OrFrançois TruffautNominated
Best DirectorFrançois TruffautWon
OCIC AwardFrançois TruffautWon
New York Film Critics Circle AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmThe 400 BlowsWon
Cahiers du cinémaAnnual Top 10 ListFrançois Truffaut5th
1960Academy AwardsBest Original ScreenplayFrançois Truffaut, Marcel MoussyNominated
Bodil AwardsBest European FilmThe 400 BlowsWon
French Syndicate of Cinema CriticsBest FilmThe 400 BlowsWon
1961BAFTABest Film from Any SourceFrançois TruffautNominated
Most Promising NewcomerJean-Pierre LéaudNominated
Sant Jordi AwardsBest Foreign DirectorFrançois TruffautWon

Legacy

Truffaut made four other films with Léaud depicting Antoine at later stages of his life: Antoine and Colette (which was Truffaut's contribution to the 1962 anthology Love at Twenty), Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run.

Filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel, Satyajit Ray, Jean Cocteau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Tsai Ming Liang, Woody Allen, Richard Lester, P C Sreeram, Norman Jewison, Wes Anderson and Nicolas Cage have cited The 400 Blows as one of their favorite movies. Kurosawa called it "one of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen".

The film was ranked #29 in Empire magazine's list of "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010. In 2018, the film was voted the eighth greatest foreign-language film of all time in BBC's poll of 209 critics in 43 countries.

The festival poster for the 71st Venice International Film Festival paid tribute to the film as it featured the character of Antoine Doinel portrayed by Jean-Pierre Léaud.