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The 400 Blows

October 7, 2010

339. Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows)
Directed by François Truffaut
France, 1959
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
Second viewing


Preteen schoolboy Antoine Doinel spends much of his time playing truant and running away from home. After being caught stealing, his father turns him over to the police and he is sent to a juvenile detention centre.

Essential Scene:

Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and his friend René (Patrick Auffay) skip school and go to the funfair. Antoine enters the Rotor — a cylindrical room which spins, causing those inside to stick to the walls. René watches from the observation point above.

The drum begins to spin. The floor retracts, leaving the people pinned half-way up the walls. From Antoine’s perspective, the spectators above become a blur. He manages to reorient himself. For the first time in the film, Antoine appears to be experiencing unalloyed joy. As the bodies whiz past the camera, it is easy to spot him:

Upright. Upright. Upright. Horizontal.


As is the case with most French New Wave films, my appreciation of The 400 Blows is largely academic. I can see why it’s well-regarded, however it doesn’t resonate with me. Perhaps I wasn’t rebellious enough as a child but I rarely identify with Antoine.

The character is based on Truffaut’s own childhood experiences, and certain POV-shots feel more like vivid memories — looking through the bars of a jail cell at the police officers’ desks, for example. There are other moments I enjoy too, such as the palpable joy of the fairground scene, but overall I can take or leave it.

What’s that, faint praise?


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