The 400 Blows (1959)

François Truffaut directs Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy and Claire Maurier in this French New Wave landmark following a young boy who goes off the rails when he bunks from school.

A movie that shows the innocence of mischief and petty larceny. Jean-Pierre Léaud’s little rebel, Antoine Doinel, is kicking against the rigid unfairness of life. His belief in the school system is gone and in his parents’ is wavering. You can’t even trust a thief, so why shouldn’t he lie and steal? Angel faced Antoine is trying out the spoils of adulthood; drinking, smoking and brief freedom. The scene where he and his truant pal smoke cigars into bottles reminds me of Pinocchio. Only in Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical work, Antione is not on quest to be “a real boy”, he’s trying to outrun reality. Why do all the daytime amusements of Paris exist… the Zeotrope, the matinees and the pinball machines… except to amuse those who should be chained to their desks and have escaped? We are going to watch all five movies Truffaut and Léaud made charting the rascal’s coming of age and journey into adulthood. I doubt any of the future entries will have Henri Dacaë’s eye for urban beauty and the playful perspective of this revered classic. Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte’s editing herds us along into devilry, Jean Constantin’s winding down waltz of a score is a sweet lament to a more naive joy. You really get lost in the thrill of skipping school and running away with only Antoine eventually suffering any of the nasty consequences. For those of us who hated school but never risked our parents’ wrath by bunking off for a day this is wish fulfilment of the highest order. You don’t envy Truffaut’s ‘luck’ that his parents were too caught up in their own lives to correct him when he first started raising minor hell. You do worry where his fictional composite Antoine is headed with after the ‘FIN’ title card separates us, with only a dull sea left to hem him in.


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