The 400 Blows Screen 12 articles

The 400 Blows

1959

The 400 Blows Poster
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    Cahiers du cinéma: Jean-Luc Godard
    February 1959 | Godard on Godard (pp. 120-121) | Translated by Tom Milne

    Les Quatre cents coups will be the proudest, stubbornest, most obstinate, in other words most free, film in the world. Morally speaking. Aesthetically, too. Henri Decae's Dyaliscope images will dazzle us like those of Tarnished Angels. . . . Les Quatre cents coups will be signed Frankness. Rapidity. Art. Novelty. Cinematograph. Originality. Impertinence. Seriousness. Tragedy. Renovation. Ubu-Roi. Fantasy. Ferocity. Affection. Unviersality. Tenderness.

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    Cahiers du cinéma: Fereydoun Hoveyda
    July 1959 | Cahiers du cinéma: The 1950s (pp. 53-57) | Translated by Liz Heron

    Every time one sees Les 400 Coups one wonders how Truffaut manages so miraculously to avoid confusion and chaos and end up with a work that is moving and coherent. The miracle lies in Truffaut's talent; every shot in the film is crowded with his ideas and imagination.

  • Note the lightly paced, overhead shot of the outdoor exercise scene, as the boys slowly splinter off in different directions until no one is left. In contrast, Antoine's flight from the reform school is slow and labored, reaching an uncertain conclusion. Ending with the infamous stop motion zoom of Antoine at the shoreline, he is at a proverbial crossroads: unable to keep running away, looking back at a familiar, hopeless fate.

  • Truffaut’s film, with the remaining films of the Antoine Doinel cycle... constitutes one of the grand high points of modern autobiographical cinema. Truffaut is one of the seminal autobiographical filmmakers of our times, along with Akerman, Allen, Brakhage, Cocteau... and Welles, to name a few relevant exemplars, for he has given us a complex Renoirian cycle of personal filmmaking that draws upon for its inspiration from Truffaut’s own complex life rooted in postwar French film culture.

  • It is one of the supreme examples of “cinema in the first person singular.” In telling the story of the young outcast Antoine Doinel, Truffaut was moving both backward and forward in time—recalling his own experience while forging a filmic language that would grow more sophisticated throughout the ‘60s.

  • Implying nothing in particular even as it cuts young Antoine Doniel's options until even motion is no longer available, the lack of finality in former Cahiers du Cinema critic François Truffaut's "Fin" is a perception-altering moment, one that suggests the cinephiliac relationship Truffaut and his ilk (meaning you, too...) all share with movies, the thrilling sensation that it isn't just life experience that informs movies, but, inversely, that movies themselves give birth to life experience.

  • More conventional than Godard and more sentimental than Chabrol, Francois Truffaut spearheaded the breakthrough of the French New Wave with this highly autobiographical first feature (1959)... Distinguished by its intensity of feeling and freewheeling use of the wide-screen frame, the film ranks among Truffaut's best.

  • The movie’s quasi-documentary visual perspective on contemporary Paris is braced by a sense of anachronistic—or, rather, timeless—artifice. It’s as if by simultaneously detaching his stories from both the time when they were lived and the time they were filmed, Truffaut was filming neither his own youth nor even that of the character Antoine Doinel, but youth itself. Its particulars, doubly abstracted, continue to feel universal to this day.

  • To me, this somehow un-dramatic shot moves not because of the vibrant physical actions; the high mobility of the camera; the sudden realization of the ‘presence’ of the performer; or its subtle emotional affects, but of the richness and complexities these elements help to nourish; the intricate interrelationships they have with each other; and the depth they help to reveal if we read them closely and carefully.

  • Allowing a victimised child to be less than wholly sympathetic – in ways that only a real-life child could ever be – Truffaut consolidates The 400 Blows as an act of rebellion. It is not just Antoine who is a rebel, or Truffaut on whose early life the film is based. The film, in its conception and mise en scène, constituted an all-out rebellion against the established tenets of French cinema.

  • A precocious fluidity carries the mixture of hardness and lyricism, childhood’s frustrations for Truffaut are never far from its lilting delights. Antoine’s night on the streets (complete with a cameo from Rebel Without a Cause’s milk bottle) affords a sharp snapshot of Pigalle in winter, the centrifugal carnival ride becomes a giant zoetrope lantern (cf. Bergman’s Fängelse).

  • Gentle but never sentimental, The 400 Blows isn't just the best of the five films in the cycle that follows Doinel's growth (and occasional regression) through 1979's Love on the Run — it's also one of the greatest ever made about the injustices of childhood.

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