400 Blows, The (1959) * Favorite Review *

I honestly only counted 3.
I honestly only counted 3.

Genre: Crime Drama (France)

Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud (The Mother and the Whore; Irma Vep), Claire Maurier (La Cage aux Folles; Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain)

Directed By: François Truffaut (Fahrenheit 451; Day For Night)

Overview: The 400 Blows is the tale of Antoine Doinel, a misguided young adolescent, whose twists and turns in life lead him to petty crimes.

I love movies. I watch them constantly. It's my passion, my main interest, shall I go so far as to say my life? I call myself a film freak, a cinephile, a 'buff', and ever so rarely a 'critic'. When I find myself in a social situation, I make a conscious effort not to talk about film unless it's brought up by someone else, because I'm sure my friends are sick of hearing about this thing I know all too much about.

Over the last couple years, my exploration of film as a serious study has changed me. The eras of the 20s, the 40s seem much 'closer' to me then they've ever been because I've acquainted myself with their storytelling history. Silent Film has done a lot to expand my context of the world both technologically and historically, and way back when I got 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I was doing my research much like Thom Ryan did/does - from the ground up - which is a reason I love his work so much.

I try not to be too much of a snob about film. It might happen by accident (The Day After Tomorrow? Please!), but until the day I can say "Yes, I have" every single time someone asks me "Have you seen... [title I've heard about, know is important in the film history scheme of things, but haven't gotten around to]?" my knowledge base is not complete.

I've always known that Truffaut's Les 400 Coups is one of the titles that can be used to differentiate the camps between 'movie lover' and 'film student'.

Antoine is certainly ready for a coup or two here too.
Antoine is certainly ready for a coup or two here too.

Originally, I thought Les 400 Coups to be a heart-wrenching tale of misery and abuse, something truly tragic, but I found instead something far more real, far more commonplace in its lessons: a tragedy that could have easily befallen any of us, a tragedy brought on by a mild neglect that could cause any of our children to become this thing Antoine explores. From early on we see in his actions the obvious destination he's marching towards, and what we are shown leads to such a foreseeable place that rather than calling the film predictable we can instead declare it honest.

More than anything, this character study of a Parisian boy's life left in me the feeling that I was watching a phenomenon. The hype it long ago generated certainly played a part in that, but the sheer truth it exuded was far more responsible. I was watching real life, a film rich in contemporary history, a story deeply personal to its auteur, a drama that shows us heavy portions of an era's everyday, and truth about simple storytelling.

It's no wonder Les 400 Coups played a major part in forging a path for its style and philosophy, the New Wave. Simply put, this is one of the 'perfect films' of film history, and anyone who studies film has either already seen it, or feels guilty for not having seen it.

It inspired me to read more on the movement, on the innovations films like this one made for New Wave, on the shattering of the preconceived notions of novelistic-style storytelling in film, on the idea of making it a purer, more naturalistic form while including avant-garde cinematographic breakthroughs like long tracking shots and jump cuts.

The 397 remaining coups are certainly implied...
The 397 remaining coups are certainly implied...

Les 400 Coups is one of those films that embarrasses the cineaste in me, makes me realize I know nothing about the roots held down by the old guard and the tides of change that (gently) fought against them.

I hate Les 400 Coups because it calls me a poseur, but it's not a snob. It invites you to share what it has to offer, to understand it, to digest it. It doesn't do what it can to go over your head. It's a simple story, well told, and above all things, honest.

For as simple as it would be to do, I won't lie and say I loved this film. The numbers below reflect more its place in history than than in its entertainment value. As a story, it felt unfinished, and in essence, it is. Knowing that there are four more films about the continuing life of Antoine Doinel doesn't inspire me to see them. I feel cheated out of a proper ending. I found the cinematography was sometimes too common. Because of everything I've seen already in my jaded lifetime, it's not as new and innovative as it was back in 1959, but as Champion and Yardstick of Civilization, Les 400 Coups is more than worthy of the praise it receives.

Yep that was one of them...
Yes, that was definitely one of them...

Overall Rating: 88% (Take One For The Team)

The Celebration is one of my favourite films because it's grounded in as much dramatic truth as is possible, but I found it more relevant to my personal tastes. Yes, Les 400 Coups is very reminiscent of this generation's Dogme project - thanks Lars! - and I knew I had to get around to it someday. Though I was looking forward to it, I'm coming to realize that ultra-serious French Drama may simply not be my favourite kind of thing, which somehow also makes me feel like a 'film pedestrian'.

Hell, using the word 'cineaste' makes me feel like a fake too, so maybe it's just me.

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Great review, sorry you didn't connect with it more.

You should check out Jules et Jim and Shoot The Piano Player - two more great Truffaut films.

What I love about this film is its honesty - it doesn't veer too far into melodrama or pathos, which makes it much more realistic and true.

I have to say that Truffaut is really the only Nouvelle Vague director that I really enjoy. Godard, with the exception of Breathless and Contempt, was always waaay too pretentious for me.

Love the fact that you've gotten rid of the segmented rating system - this allows for far more thoughtful reviews...

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