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35. Les quatre cent coups
The 400 Blows

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Antoine is a young boy in his early teens who has difficulties both at school and at home. His teacher singles him out for criticism and punishment, while his mother is cold and demanding, and frequently argues with her husband (Antoine's stepfather). The family is financially insecure, and Antoine must sleep in a sleeping bag on a cot crammed next to the back entrance to the apartment. Also, to make things worse, Antoine soon discovers that his mother is having an affair with a co-worker.

At school, Antoine is punished for the smallest of incidents, which escalate into more significant offenses. When the boys in his class pass around a risque picture, Antoine is the one who must take the blame. He is put in the corner as punishment, and passes the time there by writing a poem about the teacher, whom the children call "Sourpuss," on the classroom wall. He is reprimanded for his cheek and for defacing the school. Feeling contempt toward his schoolmaster and toward school in general, Antoine skips school one day. When asked the next day where he had been, his response is that his mother had died. He is punished again for his lie and his parents come to school to address the problem. His mother arrives distraught at the news, wondering why Antoine chose to kill her off in his story. The two have a poor connection, and she refuses to show him affection until after she discovers he found out about her affair. She promises to give him money if his grades go up, but to keep this deal a secret from his stepfather. It is implied that he must also keep her affair a secret too as a part of the deal. His mother also tries to spoil him by taking him to the movies.

Antoine engages in various acts of childish mischief, often at the instigation of his friend René, but is caught and punished after each incident. He eventually steals a typewriter from his stepfather's workplace, planning to pawn it, but Antoine and René are unsuccessful in their attempt. When Antoine visits the office to return it he is apprehended by the concierge; his stepfather turns him in to the police.

After his arrest, Antoine's parents place him with the investigating magistrate, saying that he is incorrigible. Antoine's mother requests only that Antoine be sent to a work camp by the sea, as he has never seen the ocean before. After some time in a juvenile detention center Antoine is indeed sent on to a work camp near the sea.

During a session with the psychiatrist at the detention center, Antoine reveals that he had spent most of his childhood living with his grandmother. His own mother had not wanted to take care of him. In fact, she had not wanted a child at all, and had planned to have an abortion.

Antoine eventually escapes from the work camp and runs toward the sea. Once Antoine reaches the shoreline of the sea, the film concludes with the camera zooming in and then freezing on Antoine's face (which seems to gaze into the audience).

The English title is a straight translation of the French, but misses its meaning, as the French title refers to the expression "faire les quatre cents coups", which means "to raise hell". On the first American prints, subtitler and dubber Noelle Gilmore gave the film the title Wild Oats, but the distributor did not like that title, and reverted it to The 400 Blows, which led some to think the film covered the topic of corporal punishment.

A semi-autobiographical film, reflecting events of Truffaut's and his friend's lives, its style amounts to Truffaut's personal history of French film—most notably a scene borrowed wholesale from Jean Vigo's Zéro de conduite. It is dedicated to the man who became his spiritual father, André Bazin, who died just as the film was about to be shot. Besides being a character study, the film is an exposé of the injustices of the treatment of juvenile offenders in France at the time.

Truffaut made four other films with Léaud depicting Antoine at later stages of his life. He meets his first love, Colette, in Antoine and Colette, which was Truffaut's contribution to the 1962 anthology Love at Twenty. He falls in love with Christine Darbon (Claude Jade) in Stolen Kisses. He marries Christine in Bed and Board, but the couple have separated in Love on the Run.

One of the defining films of the French New Wave, it displays many of the characteristic traits of the movement.


Directed by François Truffaut
Produced by François Truffaut
Written by François Truffaut
Marcel Moussy
Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud
Claire Maurier
Albert Rémy
Guy Decomble
Music by Jean Constantin
Cinematography Henri Decaë
Editing by Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte
Distributed by Cocinor
Release date(s) France:
4 May 1959
United States:
16 November 1959
Running time 99 minutes
Country France
Language French

 

Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel
Claire Maurier as Gilberte Doinel, Antoine's mother
Albert Rémy as Julien Doinel, Antoine's father
Guy Decomble as School teacher (Sourpuss)
Patrick Auffay as René Bigey, Antoine's best friend
Georges Flamant as Monsieur Bigey, René's father
Pierre Repp as English Teacher
The Children: Daniel Couturier, François Nocher, Richard Kanayan, Renaud Fontanarosa, Michel Girard, Henry Moati, Bernard Abbou, Jean-François Bergouignan, Michel Lesignor;
Luc Andrieux, Robert Beauvais, Bouchon, Christian Brocard, Yvonne Claudie, Marius Laurey, Claude Mansard, Jacques Monod, Henri Virlojeux.





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