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The 400 Blows

Year: 1959
Director: François Truffaut
Genre: Drama
Spine: 5

‘The 400 Blows’ is a coming of age drama from France and is considered a major contribution to the New Wave, a movement that rejected traditional cinema structure and formula and directors used cinema as a way to “express [a director’s] thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel.” as Alexandre Astruc said. This is the directorial debut of French director François Truffaut and easily his finest achievement. This film boldly follows a young man named Antoine who is sent to reform school and what sent him there. ‘The 400 Blows’ is the finest example of the New Wave as Truffaut uses this film and the character of Antoine to express his feelings about his own childhood. The film also asks us important questions about impressionable youths and the ways that society can impact them. Why do some kids turn into delinquents and others are good? Does it have to do with how the kid was raised? Is it a rebellious thing?

‘The 400 Blows’ begins by courageously showing us the people in the life of Antoine. We see it all, his relationships with friends, family and educators as well as his reactions to it all and the impact they leave on him. First, we learn that he is greatly misunderstood and rejected by his parents. This is best shown during a fight with Antoine’s parents when one says, “I’m sick of your complaints! Fed up! If you can’t stand him, say so! We’ll put him in an orphanage so I can have some peace!” Obviously, Antoine’s presence puts stress on them and Truffaut shows this very devastatingly, giving the audience the same amount of pain he felt. Antoine is also set off by his rather oppressive teachers, who constantly seem to pick on him. For example, Antoine’s teacher verbally abuses him, best shown in the line, “If your paper is first today, it’s because I’ve decided to give the results beginning with the worst.” Despite his best efforts, he still cannot impress his educators and feels the abuse he gets is not justified. Truffaut brilliantly makes the teacher as an antagonist to Antoine so that we can feel worse for the poor child. Finally, Antoine is set off because of his friends. They do not abuse him at all, but they influence his negative attitude throughout the rest of the film. Take a look at the scene where his friend pressures Antoine to skip school. They are starting to give him this negative attitude that makes Antoine more accustomed to stealing and committing other felonies. The people in Antoine’s life are directly responsible for turning him into a delinquent.

Because of this negative group of people in his life, Antoine decides to rebel. Firstly, he decides to quit school. This is best shown after his furious response to his teacher’s accusations of Antoine plagiarizing his essay. He decides to go out and make money instead of deal with his abusive teacher any more. He is anxious to grow up and emotionally, he cannot take the abuse anymore. He also consistently lies to his parents about small things such as going to school and writing a good essay when in reality he plagiarized it. He does this to them because he wants his parents to see him in a positive light, but, ironically, this makes things worse after they find out Antoine’s fibs. Antoine also commits petty crimes in order to make some extra money. This is best shown when Antoine steals his father’s typewriter and tries selling it. He does this so he has some money to be independent of his family and those around him. Truffaut also displays Antoine’s actions as a last resort by displaying his desperation to sell it and then sudden regret of stealing the typewriter. This lands Antoine in a reform school and loses everything. This scene is very quick but heartbreaking. We are not sure if Antoine feels free or hurt by his parent’s decision. He finally frees himself by escaping the reform school which brings Truffaut’s message of what it is like to be alone back.

Not surprisingly, the messages in ‘The 400 Blows’ are still just as relevant today. Truffaut is trying to explain to the audience the pain he went through as a child being ignored by those closest to him, including his parents, with Antoine and the pain he goes through. Audiences today will still be able to relate to this message, especially teenagers who are anxious to grow up and see the world in a better perspective free from authority. Some will see the film as a cautionary tale about the pain of losing that authority or guide in the world and others will see it as a positive film about being free, it depends on how they interpret the ending. Truffaut also makes this film relatable by making Antoine so sympathetic throughout. Even if he deserved the punishment, such as plagiarizing the essay, we still feel bad for him because we know his intentions were good. Since the film displays Antoine in such a sympathetic light, ‘The 400 Blows’ is still a masterpiece and probably one of the best and most relatable films ever made.

About The Author
Chris Ranta
Chris Ranta
I'm a fan of cinema and have been since a young age. I love to write analysis and discuss the film making process to give myself a better appreciation for it. My favourite genres of film are dark comedy and cult films. I also happen to like long walks on the beach if that helps...
  • Jeremy Garcia
    Jeremy Garcia
    December 2, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Great review. I love this film and feel like you’ve captured it’s brilliance very well. It’s quite amazing how a film about a child in France circa 1959 can still be as powerful and relatable with a 21 year old in 2014. Just pure classic cinema.

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