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"N'Oublie Pas Les Ordures"
stryker-55 August 2000
Warning: Spoilers
So here it is, the landmark film which ushered in the Nouvelle Vague, introduced Francois Truffaut and his screen persona Antoine Doinel to the world, and changed the direction of cinema for ever. And an impressive piece of work it is, too.

By 1959 the process of film-making had atrophied (artistically, at any rate). Stale and stagey artifice was the norm, and for the upcoming generation of film-makers and critics (Truffaut was both) a new way of conceiving cinematic art had to be found. In this, his feature film debut, Truffaut found it.

This is cinema verite at its freshest and best. The film looks like a documentary and absolutely drips with kitchen-sink candour. A handheld camera follows Antoine around his parents' flat and we get to peer in on the grimy, cramped and oh-so-ordinary minutiae of a humble little life. "Don't forget the garbage," Antoine is repeatedly told, and Truffaut certainly doesn't. He pulls off with resounding success the seemingly impossible feat of making the mundane seem entirely absorbing.

"C'est peut-etre un question de glandes," suggests a teacher as we see the adolescent Antoine go quietly off the rails. Paris (or more accurately, that part of Paris bounded by Montmartre and the Gare du Nord) is wintry and stark, the unlovely and prosaic environment in which Antoine functions - or fails to function. Truffaut wants, inter alia, to deflate the "April In Paris" myth so virulent in the 1950's. He succeeds mightily. Antoine is disaffected. Parents, home and school are all inhospitable and the sleety, foggy streets south of Pigalle convey Antoine's alienation admirably.

Deadpan humour is a powerful weapon in Truffaut's armoury. Antoine's inept note-forging, the outlandish excuse which he gives for his absence and his long-suffering look during his mother's reminiscences are all nicely done and raise a chuckle. The bird's-eye view of the P.T. class, shot with a rooftop camera, conveys wordlessly the comedy of the rapidly diminishing line of pupils.

A punch and judy show is filmed from inside the performance canopy, looking out onto the audience of small children. Their total lack of artifice is delightful to see, and underscores Truffaut's point - candour is beautiful, staginess is unacceptable. As Antoine's father frogmarches him along the street after the typewriter debacle, bemused passers-by stop to stare at the camera. Not only is this disarmingly honest, it is also profound. Cinema should exist, as it were, inside the camera, not in elaborate sets. Antoine rides in the spinning drum at the fairground, the camera fixed rigidly on him, allowing the onlookers to dissolve into an undistinguished blur. The camera IS Antoine's subjective self.

The performance of 15-year-old Jean-Pierre Leaud as Antoine is astonishingly good. He is natural and engaging, and his soliloquy (delivered to the psychologist) seems an incredible piece of work for so young an actor.

A long, long tracking shot accompanies Antoine as he runs away from it all, and is intended to convey, by the very rhythm of his breathing, the internal subjectivity of a child who has been let down by his parents and his society. The final freeze-frame, with no histrionic fireworks, no resounding words and no tidy denouement, closes the film on a note of immense emotional power. Antoine is alone.
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One of the shining stars of the French New Wave
FilmOtaku20 September 2004
Every day life, however 'real' and gritty it may be, is rarely portrayed on film and was certainly a rarity in the 1950's. In Europe however, there was a movement in film-making that embraced this realism and searched for the deeper meaning in the 'here and now'. This is about the most basic and miniscule portion of the meaning behind the French New Wave of the 1950's – films that explored the filmmaker's surroundings, and eventually became an inspiration for filmmakers around the world. Francois Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows' is one of the most well-known films of this movement, and has been embraced and hailed as one of the greatest films of all time.

After viewing Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows', I have been ruminating over the deeper meaning behind his story of Antoine Doinel, a 14 year old boy in Paris who is having trouble in school and trouble at home. In school, he is marginalized as a trouble-maker, yet it is obvious that it is more a matter of him causing trouble by expressing himself creatively rather than following along with mundane assignments. At home, Doinel has to deal with an adulterous mother who only pays attention to him when it suits her needs, and a father who is barely present. Doinel responds by doing the only thing he feels he can do, and that is by acting up; eventually earning an expulsion from school and being sent to a juvenile prison camp by his parents.

Nothing is cut and dry in 'The 400 Blows'. If one were to take the film at face value, there would be a 'so what' feeling. What the film subtly explores is the disenfranchisement of youth. There is no joy in Doinel's life – anytime he tries to express himself creatively or acts up in a playful way he is shot down and metaphorically forced back into line. This is not a typical Paris street kid either, this is one who reads Balzac for pleasure and conveys intense emotion. The problem is that no one is there to notice or care. Another aspect of the French New Wave was that the films were not merely a product of a Hollywood factory; these were intensely personal films to the writers and directors. In the case of 'The 400 Blows', it is certain that Doinel is based on Truffaut, himself only 28 when he made the film. Truffaut's cinematography in 'The 400 Blows' is exquisite. We see a Paris that is not in Technicolor with colorful fountains like 'An American in Paris'. This is Paris from a Parisian's perspective – and the difference is breathtaking and intense. These are not Louis XVI style houses, they are tiny flats where people have to sleep in closets and walk up and down six flights of stairs. The city views are those of a native Parisian – the kind of tour one would get if they asked the average Parisian for non-tourist attractions.

There is still a lot that I have to learn and think about 'The 400 Blows' and French New Wave in general, but with the minute amount of understanding I have of it, I found it to be an intense film, one that left me emotional and craving enlightenment. Rarely is there a film that leaves that kind of impact on me, but Truffaut managed to leave me speechless and deep in thought with 'The Four Hundred Blows'.

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Truffaut's powerful and moving look at adolescence
Camera-Obscura18 November 2006
THE FOUR HUNDRED BLOWS (François Truffaut - France 1959).

Twelve-year-old Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) has troubles at home and at school. Ignored and neglected by his parents, his relationship with his mother is further strained when he discovers that she has taken a secret lover. Added to this, his school teachers have written him off as a trouble maker and, with luck seemingly never on his side, it is Antoine who ends up getting the blame for bad behaviour. Finding refuge only in his love of cinema, Antoine soon finds it necessary to break free and discover what the world can offer outside the confines of everyday life.

I have always struggled with the labeling of this film as one of the pivotal entrances in the "Nouvelle Vague". Since Jean-Luc Godard's "Au Bout de Soufflé", who uses a completely different approach to film-making, with his restless jump-cutting and endless references to pop culture, Truffaut presents his case clear cut, as realistic as possible. But this was something completely different from the way American films portrayed juvenile delinquency so far. No iconic trouble makers like James Dean or Marlon Brando, just a realistic portrait of a twelve-year old boy sliding into isolation. The very idea alone was something novel, seldom depicted in a way like this.

Much of the praise must go to Jean-Pierre Léaud, who never even seems to be acting. His every movement, thought, expression come across as completely natural. Truly, one of the most remarkable performances of such a young actor I've ever seen. Watching this over 40 years after it was made, it all looks deceptively simple, with Truffaut's perfect integration of music and image, location shooting on the streets of Paris and the naturalistic performances. Truffaut used many innovations but they are not easily noticeable as in Godard's work. This was for instance the first French film to be shot in widescreen (aspect ratio 2.35:1), which required much planning on Truffaut's part, with some surprising results. In many scenes we don't see the other person Antoine is talking to, which gives the viewer the illusion as if Antoine is almost talking directly to the camera. Jean-Pierre Léaud would continue his role as Antoine in four more films by Truffaut, "Love at Twenty" (1962), "Stolen Kisses" (1968), "Bed and Board" (1970) and "Love on the Run" (1979).

Camera Obscura --- 9/10
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A magnificent tale about childhood and the quest for liberty, masterfully shot
miguel_marques15 December 2000
Les quatre-cents coups is the film that opens up the New Wave movement. I think many of the characteristics of the New Wave -as pointed out in class- can be inferred form the differences between the last film we saw in class, Carné's Les enfants du paradis, and this work by Truffaut: real life situations, no sets, everyday people. I have found in Les quatre-cents coups a brand new, refreshing and overwhelming cinema. But Les quatre-cents coups is also a dense, complicated film. Its autobiographical character makes it an encyclopedia of personal feelings, opinions and nuances of an introspection by Truffaut.

Technically, the main differences between Truffaut and the previous cinema is the use of camera movements and angles. Although Renoir had made a witty and fresh use of traveling and long takes, Truffaut masters this technique as anyone else does. The camera moves smoothly, it nearly swings or floats from angle to angle following an action, as if the spectator was a ghost amid real life. Truffaut enjoys playing around with the camera: extremely long takes as we have never seen in any of the previous films: some of them in the classroom, other in Antoine's friend house, or a magnificent take at the end of the film in which we see Antoine, then a panoramic view and then Antoine again, running towards the sea. He also shoots from impossible angles, like those at the beginning from below the Tour Eiffel, or the nearly zenithal take following the jogging students in the streets. Or he teases us with the fake black out, when Antoine goes down the stairs to throw away garbage. Or shows us inner feelings through close-ups: the scene in which Antoine lies to his father telling him he did not take his map.

However, I think that the most important difference between previous films and this one is the treatment of action. Truffaut is an observer, a photographer of soul. He takes a fiendish delight in shooting casual, long scenes: the boy tearing away his notebook pages; the whole sequence of Antoine's arrival at his empty home is excellent: the three reflexes in his mother's mirror -in which she will look afterwards, or Antoine combing his hair, laying the table. Also the spinning ride, or the long traveling following the escape of Antoine. They are long, but not slow. They keep tension up, as if everyday acts and decisions could be heroic and transmit the greatest interest and attraction. It looks like a documentary on human life! Some comments could be made about Antoine Doinel, alter ego of Truffaut. He is a very complicated character. The most curious thing about him is that he behaves like an adult: he acts, walks and talks like a man -especially if we compare him to his teachers or his father! However, at some times I think Truffaut describes himself as being not too witty: remember the candle in the hole on the wall, or how his friend convinces him to steal the typewriter and then makes him give it back, or how he innocently copies a whole paragraph from Balzac. He wants to be an artist, but he is not -not yet. This lack of wit and fatality -he is caught but everyone around him cheats as he does- leads him to a rebellion that grows stronger and stronger. This explain why he is such a rebel and not his friend, or the other children in the class, who live in the same social group.

The main topic in Les quatre-cents coups is the quest for freedom, but not in the way Renoir looked at it, in fact is closer to L'Atalante by Vigo than to Renoir's La grande illusion, for example. Renoir is more concerned by social struggle and the liberty of the people. But Truffaut is more introspective, more intimate: indeed this film is the description of life attitude of an independent spirit through the autobiographical look of the author -this is cinéma d'auteur. We can find many elements from Truffaut's life in the film: a difficult family situation, problems at school, the Army, etc. These elements will appear throughout the film. Antoine, alter ego of Truffaut lives in the school, in his house, in the streets and finally in the juvenile detention center. In each one of these places he will find adverse situations he will have to overcome.

The school The school is the first oppressing environment for Antoine. At the very beginning he is caught, by chance, with a pin-up calendar. This fatality will be recalled in Antoine's life later or -when he is caught by the porter giving the typewriter back, having been his friend's idea to steal it. He is a rebel, and nothing will refrain him from being so. He is punished, and he misbehaves again, writing in the wall an inspired poem. The school is the only place in which Truffaut makes a little bit of criticism, in this case against the education system: the three teachers are either cruel (the French teacher) or stupid (the English and Physical Education teachers).

The house The house situation might be similar to that lived by Truffaut in real life. Her mother, a beautiful, egocentric and unscrupulous woman -sometimes sad, and old looking- who hates him. At the end of the film we discover that she did not want that child. This hatred and the attitude of his father -a smiley and cheerful but weak man- will add to the necessity of Antoine to flee. Truffaut gives us a Freudian wink: when his teacher asks him why he missed school, Antoine will sharply answer: 'My mom died!'

The streets In the streets Antoine will find freedom, challenge, adulthood but also perversion: he becomes a man in a 13-year old boy body, little by little. But he will also become a criminal; together with his friend they will climb up in the scale of crime. He first skips classes. He and his friend stroll around the city, innocently. Then they begin an adult, abnormally rebel behavior: they make cars stop in the middle of the street, for example. The spinning ride is one of the few symbolic images in the film -that is another difference with Vigo and Renoir filmmaking. The scene of Antoine trying without success to fight against centrifuge force in a mad spinning trip really shocked me: he fights against reality and he is suffering, but he also has fun in it. Afterwards, he leaves home. . He will learn about solitude and indeed not a single word is heard in a long sequence. I really enjoyed the long, silent scene of the milk robbery. Antoine runs outlaw like an animal, we can feel loneliness, cold, hunger, sleepiness. It is another of those long, slow but at the same time agile scenes about casual acts: drinking a bottle of milk. At the end, the streets will make him a criminal. From the moment he is caught on, he is not treated as a child anymore. He wants to be an adult, and a spell will sort of be cast on him: he will be treated as such. It is significant when he is caught by the porter. He is told not to take off the hat, which made him look like an adult. From then on, he is treated roughly as if he was a man, especially in the police station.

The prison And finally he arrives at the prison, which I think is the climax of oppression -we must remember the comparisons to the Army Truffaut detests. It is maybe the simplest of the scenarios, he find himself facing what he hates with no other possibility. The ending is a sublime anticlimax. After being punished for eating the bread, Antoine goes on 'normal' life within the detention center: he visits the psychologist -an ultimate introspection by Truffaut-, receives his mother and talk to his new friends and plays soccer. And suddenly, when we least expect it, he flees. He runs, runs, runs, the longest run I have ever seen, and the most exciting. He reaches the sea: his dream, and a symbol for eternity and absolute in poetry. He splashes into the water, he stops and looks back; the first time he looks right into the camera. This has got undoubtedly a deep and very personal meaning that maybe only the author knows. It is a pessimistic or an optimistic ending? I think it is above all an out-of-this-world ending. If the simple presence of the sea, Antoine's object of liberty, is overwhelming for the spectator, how should the character feel? I really liked the final traveling: we follow Antoine's run over the sand, but the camera is facing the inland, we are waiting to see the sea as much as Antoine is waiting to wet his feet. I do not really think that he is deceived, although his look into the camera is ambiguous. I think he stares at the spectator because he has realized what the truth is: the character is now out of the film. And the truth for him, I think, is this: I can reach freedom whenever I want, but absolute freedom is impossible to achieve. He is staring at us, but he is also looking back with a grave look: he might have seen his pursuer in the distance.
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French cinema at its best
maax4812 February 2006
Truffaut has worked wonders here, creating a masterful tale of a boy confused, troubled, and unloved. Antoine Doinel (played superbly by Jean-Pierre Léaud in the lead role) has strict, unfaithful parents, and a harsh, oppressive teacher, and falls into delinquency because of his unhappiness. He lies, steals, skips school and runs away from home, and soon ends up in a juvenile delinquency centre.

Truffaut's inspiration for this film came from his own depressed childhood, so he bases Antoine on himself, including in terms of appearance. Being a 'New Wave' (a cinematographic movement of the sixties, involving directors who believed Hollywood films were too lavish and unreal) director, Truffaut always used a real location for the film, including breathtaking shots of Truffaut's native Paris. He also made a cameo in the film in the style of Hitchcock.

Delinquance is the key theme here. Antoine, who is a character who believes in liberty and freedom, and the way he is always locked up is repressive for him, and this provokes a constant need for him to be out.

Trying to make a realistic and moving film was Truffaut's aim, which, by watching this film, I realised that he had done amazingly well. Also, by combining humour and drama too, we have the defining French film of the 20th century. A black and white film that is full of colour. Bien sur, François Truffaut.
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Great Filmmaking by a Great Filmmaker
Stroheim-31 October 1999
The Four Hundred Blows is the semi-autobiographical story of Antoine Doinel, a boy trapped in a life of contemtptuous authority who turns to outward rebellion. Truffaut shows his mastery of the cinema in this, his freshman attempt.

The film is perfectly cast with Dionel relaying neutral facial expressions for the majority of the film. The boy, although not necessarily evoking sympathy from the audience, definitely evokes empathy. He is a pathetic character forced into his position by his teacher and his almost uncaring mother.

Throughout the film, Truffaut hints at the possibility of a happy life for the protagonist, but just as soon as the ideal is given to us, it is taken away. The mood shifts in the film are fabulously orchestrated through contrasting scenes, music, and even acting. From the opening sequence through the final, enigmatic still shot, the movie is a masterpiece of both French and world cinema. It is a must see.
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Extraordiany Portrait Of A Parisian Youth - One Of The All Time Greats
jdnmevans12 June 2007
In viewing François Truffaut's The 400 Blows for perhaps the fifth time, I finally began to realize its true greatness. Inspired by the director's childhood, The 400 Blows (Truffaut's first film) is primarily about a young boy growing up with his mother and stepfather in Paris and apparently heading into a life of crime. Most adults see the boy as a troublemaker, but in the film, he is meant to be the protagonist.

Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is the boy's name. He is resourceful, quiet, and does what he can to get by. At home, he has a struggling relationship with his parents, especially his mother. She is a woman of curious interests, always distracted by her incommodious son and a secret affair with a man from her job. Antoine's stepfather appears nice enough while treating his son as an equal in a good manner, although he is not really attached to him. However, both parents share common traits: they are away from home quite a bit and do not pay close enough attention to their son. Sadly enough, they only judge him by his behavior and by reports they get from other people.

At school, Antoine's teacher classifies him as a menacing troublemaker. Not that it is entirely Antoine's fault, he just has terrible luck. In the opening scene of the film, we see a poster with a half-naked woman on the front being passed around quietly by the students. The teacher is sitting at his desk with his head down, grading papers, until the poster comes to Antoine and he finds it. He sends Antoine to the corner of the room, where he writes a note of resentment on the wall. As punishment for that, he is to diagram the exact words that he wrote. At home that night, Antoine's homework is interrupted. Because he did not complete it, his good friend René convinces him to skip school the next day, although Antoine is reluctant at first. They walk around France and notice Antoine's mother kissing a man that is not her husband. She and her son make eye contact, but René assures his friend that everything will be alright. The next morning, as the boys return to school, Antoine lies to his teacher and says the reason he missed school was that his mother died. Everything is alright until his mother, furious, arrives at school and her son is immediately identified as a liar.

And yet, we see Antoine alone at home in some private, subtle, and hopeful moments. One of them being, his love for Balzac. He adores him, and we see him reading his biography and lighting a candle in a shrine in his honor at home. One day, at school, the students are proposed to write an essay on an important event in their life, and Antoine chooses the topic of his grandfather's death, in which he incorporates a phrase from his Balzac book. Alas, the teacher identifies this as plagiarism, and sends Antoine out of the classroom, along with René. The two boys stay at René's house for quite some time, living up to the expectations of a life of crime, until they steal a typewriter leaving Antoine caught trying to return it. He is later sent to a juvenile delinquent detention home.

The 400 Blows is not meant to be a tragedy. Rather, it is a character study following Antoine Doinel's life and decisions he makes as a direct result of the many things going on in it. Even The 400 Blows captures a few moments of happiness joy. One of these is a priceless sequence in which a gym teacher is leading Antoine's class for a jog through Paris, not realizing that the boys are peeling off and running away two by two. There is another scene after Antoine's shrine for Balzac catches on fire and his parents are stressing and yelling at him. His mother suggests an outing to a movie theater, where they end up going. After the film, we see the trio in the car, laughing and reflecting on what they had seen. We see this as a moment of hope for Antoine and his family, for this being the only time they are all happy together.

There are many poignant moments however, emerging late in the film after Antoine is caught for stealing the typewriter. His father is fed up with his behavior and escorts him to a police station where he is sent to a jail cell and later in a police wagon full of prostitutes and thieves, with his face peering through the bars, full of tears. His parents discuss with the authorities that they cannot not take him back because they believe he will only run away again. So, in turn, their son is taken to the juvenile delinquent school. These sequences express a reality of Antoine's life, in tune with the outcome of himself. He remains quiet and reserved towards the end of the film, as if he has nothing to say.

The story of Antoine Doinel and his many experiences allow a life to be filled with curiosity and exploration. Every second of the ninety-nine minutes of the film is not wasted. Truffaut allows every minute to be overflowing with creativity while still maintaining the central story of the protagonist. It is not a film that can be taken lightly as a family movie to be watched every Saturday night. It is a film to be given plenty of thought, carefully examined, and given a conclusion. The genius of the film does not rely on that, moreover, it relies on how much is put into the film. Down to the smallest detail, the film is able to maneuver and progress. The story contains elements of sadness, regret, family, warmth, happiness, humor, values, and choices. Just like life itself.
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Deserved Truffaut Classic Benefits Significantly from Criterion's New DVD Package
EUyeshima20 May 2006
As the seminal work of the French New Wave, the 1959 directorial debut of 27-year old Francois Truffaut has such a vaunted reputation that the final film is bound to disappoint. However, the pristine print that comes with the new Criterion Collection DVD really makes me realize what a brave and emotionally resonant film he made ostensibly about his own troubled adolescence. It's worth seeing twice - once for the film itself and a second time to listen to the newly recorded commentary by Truffaut's childhood friend Robert Lachenay (the true-life inspiration for Rene in the film). Speaking in French but subtitled in English, he provides insights into the story and context of the film that no film scholar or even production associate could possibly provide. As a point of comparison, listen to the by-the-numbers commentary by film scholar Brian Stonehill (recorded back in 1992), which is thoughtful and well researched but devoid of the human factor.

The film's title comes from a French colloquialism that translates into "raising hell", an appropriate reference since the story focuses on a thirteen-year old hellion named Antoine, living in a poor section of Paris and neglected by parents downright arrogant in their dysfunctional nature. Antoine consequently lives a street urchin's life as he lies to people in authority - his parents, his teachers, and the police - since he admits rather sadly that the truth doesn't make any difference. Truffaut tracks Antoine's life through a series of dispiriting episodes that ultimately lead him to be sent away to a reformatory after he gets caught returning a stolen typewriter and his mother and stepfather tire of their responsibility over him. To Truffaut's immense credit, the film feels stark and naturalistic without resorting to dramatic manipulation, and he finds the ideal Antoine in Jean-Pierre Leaud, who brings out the confusion, angst and wandering attention of his character in realistic terms. He is especially impressive in an apparently improvised scene where he is interviewed by the school authorities about why his life has come to this. It is heartbreaking to see how bleak his life becomes, yet Leaud imbues the incorrigible, often intolerable side of Antoine with fervor.

There are several interesting extras included with the 2006 DVD package starting with two separate interviews with Truffaut, the first a year after the film's release discussing he film's impact and the second five years later when we see the filmmaker in a more reflective mood about his cinematic influences. Leaud is featured in 16mm screen test footage where his naturally ebullient personality emerges and then after the 1959 Cannes Film Festival where puberty has apparently kicked in and then in 1965 as a comparatively reserved twenty-year old. The screen test of Richard Kanayan (who has a minor role as a schoolmate) is amusing for his Satchmo-inspired rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and his eerie resemblance to Fantasy Island's Tattoo, Herve Villechaize. Be forewarned that the film is relentlessly downbeat, but Truffaut's emotional investment and consummate abilities as a filmmaker, even at this stage of his career, make this essential viewing.
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Memorable Story With Thoughtful Direction By Truffaut
Snow Leopard17 May 2005
The memorable story of young, troubled Antoine is worth seeing for a good number of reasons, probably most of all for the thoughtful direction by François Truffaut. It stands out from most other movies about troubled youths, both in the way that it portrays the main character and in making such good use of seemingly minor events in showing how they shape Antoine's life.

As Antoine, Jean-Pierre Léaud (in the role with which he would always be identified) strikes a nice balance in making his character come to life without making any of his actions seem forced or over-dramatic. Truffaut sets things up for him perfectly, by presenting a great variety of situations in his life that allow Antoine's character to come out naturally. Many of the settings are in themselves interesting and creative, despite being located in familiar types of places.

The story is written carefully so as to allow the viewer to identify with and sympathize with Antoine, while still seeing his faults clearly. What is often the most affecting thing about it is the way that Truffaut shows how even the most commonplace kinds of events can have such an effect on a maturing person, if they are a source of disappointed expectations or misunderstood intentions. To make this kind of movie so effectively without relying on violent or shocking material is an admirable achievement, and it repays careful thought and attention while watching it.
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Well made but the story just didn't grab me
sme_no_densetsu24 July 2011
François Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" is routinely listed as one of the greatest films in all of foreign cinema. At the time of its release it was hailed as an important film and subsequently proved to be immensely influential in the context of the French New Wave.

The semi-autobiographical story concerns a Parisian adolescent (Jean-Pierre Léaud) who attempts to escape problems at home and at school by delving into a life of petty crime. Unfortunately, he never receives more than a temporary respite from his predicament and frequently ends up deeper in trouble. The script is fairly loose and strives for realism above all else.

Enforcing Truffaut's aim of realism is the group of actors that he assembled. Léaud indisputably carries the film, at once delivering an authentic performance while also showing a maturity beyond his years. While not quite as impressive, the supporting cast is nevertheless uniformly solid, perhaps none moreso than Guy Decomble as Antoine's antagonist at school.

Truffaut's direction is exceedingly well-handled, not to mention impressive for a debut feature. The film also sports attractive cinematography and a lively score by Jean Constantin.

Indeed, the film can scarcely be faulted for any flaw in its construction or execution. Instead, my tempered enthusiasm is the result of feeling a certain amount of detachment from the main character. Naturally, this sort of objection is largely personal so your mileage may vary.
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An intense emotional journey of one boy's early life
ppw3o6r25 April 2006
This film is one of the greatest I have ever seen. It depicts some events in the life of Antoine Doinel, a young French boy who gets into a lot of trouble no matter what he does. This was the first film by Francois Truffaut, and I believe that it is filmed with such an innocence that you can really feel some of the emotions that Antoine feels. I love the simple style of this film, and I think it adds to its charm. The story is can even be painful to watch as one sees all of the things that happen to Antoine. I think that the reason for the strong emotions embedded in this film is that it is semi-autobiographical. I think the cinema is what rescued Truffaut from a life like his protagonist.In short, an inspiration to all filmmakers-they DEFINITELY don't make them like this anymore!
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Living a wild life
dbdumonteil5 August 2001
This film aka "the four hundred blows" is a mistranslation.Faire les 400 coups" means"to live a wild life. As a French,I'm stunned when I see the popularity of this good ,but by no means outstanding film. 1.It's not the first film of the "nouvelle vague" move;check Agnes Varda's "la pointe courte",(1956)Alain Resnais's "Hiroshima mon amour"(1958),Claude Chabrol's "le beau serge"(1958) are anterior .Historically,"les 400 coups " comes after. 2.The "nouvelle vague" was sometimes ponderous and hard on their predecessors:Overnight,Julien Duvivier,Henri-George Clouzot,Claude Autant-Lara ,Yves allégret and a lot of others were doomed to oblivion.THis selfishness and this contempt is typically "nouvelle vague".You 've never heard (or read) the great generation of the thirties (Renoir,Carné,Grémillon,Duvivier already,Feyder) laugh at ,say,Maurice Tourneur or Max Linder.So,thanks to Truffaut and co,some people will never discover some gems of the French fifties or forties(Duvuvier's "sous le ciel de Paris",Autant-Lara's "douce",Yves Allégret's "une si jolie petite plage " and "manèges").THe novelle vague clique went as far as saying that William Wyler,Georges Stevens and Fred Zinemann were worthless! 3."Les 400 coups " is technically rather disappointing:it's very academic ,the story is as linear as it can be,the teachers are caricatures,and the mother Claire Maurier delivers such memorable lines as (you've got to be a French circa 1960 to understand how ridiculous it is): Well ,your father 's got only his brevet (junior school diploma)and,as for me ,I've got only my high school diploma!You've got to know,that circa 1960,hardly 10%of the pupils had the HSD in France! Antoine Doinel should have been proud of his mother after all!She wants him to have diplomas,who can blame her? 4.Compared to the innovations of "Hiroshima mon amour",which features a brand new form,and a new "fragmented " content,"les 400 coups " pales into significance.Truffaut will master a new form only with the highly superior "Jules and Jim", helped by the incomparable Jeanne Moreau. 5.The interpretation is rather stiff;Jean-Pierre Léaud ,arguably listenable when dubbed in English ,is still decent,but he will soon degenerate into the most affected of his generation. 6.The topic=stolen childhood had better days,before (Julien Duvivier's "Poil de carotte" ,Luis Bunuel's "los olvidados") and will have after (Maurice Pialat's "l'enfance nue",Kenneth Loach's "Kes") I do not want to demean Truffaut,his movie is not bad,but,frankly,French movie buffs,prefer "Jules and Jim" "l'enfant sauvage" (a film honest ,true and commercially uncompromizing to a fault)"l'argent de poche"(as academic as "400 coups" but much more funny)or his nice Hitchcock pastiche "vivement dimanche".
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Decent but not memorable
SarahofBorg9 November 2005
I confess I didn't seem to like this film nearly as much as most people here seem to have, and unlike them I don't have much to say. I understand why people love/loved this film. When it was released, it was original and inspirational. Nothing else like it existed. The characters are easy to understand and relate to, the story as well. Nothing wrong there. However, it was mostly the way the film was shot that ruined it for me. It's full of long, metaphoric, unimportant shots that really just confused me rather than appealed to me. I often wondered just when is Truffaut going to end this overly-long shot, not out of suspense but out of frustrated boredom. Overall it's a simple, sad story that will leave you sad and confused. I respect it for it's craftsmenship, but it's not even remotely entertaining or thought-provoking. I'm sure people would accuse me for being shallow, but this is an honest opinion and I have studied and read about this film. I have thought much about it, and I'm still of the same opinion.
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Dull and pointless.
steven_allen62625 January 2010
To start off, I would like to point out that I am not a hater of foreign or B&W films, and I also have respect for different artistic styles in cinema. But this film was simply terrible.

The protagonist fails to develop or evolve in any way. So many people have described the boy as being "misunderstood", and authority is considered the villain...but this is NOT a film about a misunderstood child being victimised for no reason. He is given plenty of fair opportunities to improve and redeem himself from his selfish, reckless actions, but he shoots them all down and continues to do wrong until his parents are forced to go to extreme measures to control him...and even then, he does not change. There is absolutely no character journey.

We are also shown a great amount of long, pointless shots that do nothing to advance the plot, nor carry any discernible symbolism.

The whole experience is a slow, dull observation of a dislikable boy reaping what he has sewn time and time again, without learning from his mistakes. Painfully pointless, and unrecommended if you value good characters and plot.
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We need films like this today. Desperately. (possible spoilers)
the red duchess19 July 2001
Warning: Spoilers
'The 400 blows' immediately introduces its hero in a breathless credit sequence: I mean the Eiffel Tower, glimpsed from different angles as the camera drives through the streets of Paris, emerging from behind buildings, through trees, opening onto avenues. It is a magnet - wherever you go you move towards it - and a totem.

This sequence is transposed later, when Antoine goes to the funfair, and rides on one of those moving cylinders, like a zoetrope. The comparison is deliberate - Truffaut is situating his film in film history, declaring his intention to start again, to get back to first principles, to a time when moving pictures was a medium of possibility, before it was bogged down by genre and the studio system. this zoetrope has a transformative power - it takes a character from neo-realism and abstracts him, turning him into a figure in a Grand Guignol, crawling in eternal circles. But, from his point of view, it completely transforms the outside world, from a thing of oppressive solidity content to stare in powerful distance, to a formless, unstable mass.

This sequence crystallises the power of Truffaut's film, its freedom and its concern with entrapment. It charts the decline into imprisonment of its main character with a style of buoyant liberation. So while Antoine is trapped in this barrel, he is also offered a new way of looking beyond those merely content to look on from the outside.

'The 400 Blows' is the first masterpiece of the nouvelle vague, that iconoclastic movement that briefly saved cinema from stagnation as an art-form, just as it declared that it was an art-form (hmm, a connection?). It's a cliche now that Truffaut was the least innovative of the New Wavers, and yet it's still surprising that a film built so classically (moving from Paris to the countryside; balancing the opening school scene, with its barred doors, with the closing borstal scene etc.) still achieves that tingling spontaneity so rare in the cinema (e.g. Jean-Pierre Leaud as an actor laughing with the crew as Albert Remy breaks an egg). The first viewing of '400' is such a rush you'd be forgiven for thinking that it, like 'A Bout de souffle', was made up on the spot, and it is only on subsequent viewings that you marvel at Truffaut's formal control, the rhythm of his camera movements and editing, the consideration of his compositions.

That image of spinning round a fixed pole is the one that haunts me. Just as the decline of Michel Poiccard in the Truffaut-scripted 'A Bout de souffle' is figured as a car running out of steam, so Antoine is forever running in circles, brought back to a fixed point, having gotten nowhere. To move is to live - that is why the final freeze-frame is so frightening: Antoine has usurped the Eiffel Tower, has become the centre of the spinning top - he dominates the closing frame, just as the opening ones were empty (of humans). But at what cost? - has he simply wound down into inertia?: the subsequent Doinel films would suggest so. (that closing beach scene, in which Antoine seems to be running against moving, phosphorescent sand, also alludes to another great work about a young artist and his city, Joyce's 'Ulysses' and its chapter 'Proteus')

Although the film rarely shoots directly from his point of view, the style is an exuberant expression of Antoine's sensibility. Antoine is ambisexual, still seeking his identity, just before seeking sexuality - early on he sits at his mother's dressing table, his face splintered by the triptych mirrors; later he steals supplies from the ladies' toilet. This embodying of subjectivity in objective style is what saves the closing third from de Sica-like sentimentality and manipulation: we are rarely outside Antoine's head, people are wonderful or horrible as he experiences them. Only twice is his sensibility intruded on - when he is caught bringing back the typewriter, the captor creeping his point of view; and the interview with the faceless psychologist at the borstal, filmed as if behind a double-sided mirror, the feral animal penned at last.

'The 400 blows' is revered as a moving, melancholy picture of misdirected adolescence. It is sometimes forgotten that most of the film is pure comedy, delighting in gags, digressions, bits of business. For much of the running time, you envy Antoine - what joy it must be to be young and in Paris, swashbuckling in the schoolyard, truanting in the city, smoking cigars: his family situation is no worse that most, at least he has friends, a roof over his head, and can read Balzac. Antoine is a bit of a clown: all clowns eventually settle down, make the right choices at crucial moments in their lives. Antoine somehow misses those rarely visible choices and finds himself locked up, descending the various levels of institutional hell. His often amiable and/or witty parents are no more evil than he is a saint, although an educational system that asks kids to simply copy down 'great' poems (a Sisyphean task in one ink-blotted case) is clearly wrong. Georges Delerue's score - romantic, exuberant, tragic, bittersweet - ranks with the three greats ('Vertigo', 'Taxi Driver', 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg').
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Not So Wild
jldmp130 October 2006
This is the sort of thing that only now thrills the film eggheads. After all, Feierstein's Flex Crush will have you know that Real Men don't watch anything by Truffaut.

It might have been interesting if Truffaut had anything to -say- here. The camera-as-voyeur motif was nothing new. Have we all forgotten De Sica's "Bicycle Thief"? Or anything by Hitchcock?

So all we get is the extended metaphor of the juvenile as Truffaut, who spends all his free time 'screwing up his eyes' at the movies, who wrecks schoolroom discipline, gets accused of plagiarism(the many petty thefts), and ultimately escapes societal confines to make 'his own movie'. Sorry...been there, done that too many times for this to matter.
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I personally didn't like it.
WakenPayne1 August 2013
Here is Francois Truffaut's classic. This is considered to be a classic of French cinema but I respectfully disagree. In my opinion, repeat IN MY OPINION this movie does have a lot of problems.

The plot of this movie is that Antoine is a child in France who has negligent parents and frequently gets in trouble with his teacher frequently. He takes it upon himself to run away from home (for little reason) and when returning steals money and other objects.

Firstly, there is not one character to sympathize with. Antoine was clearly someone to feel sympathy for, but who feels sympathy for someone who skips school only to arrive the next day and say his mother died. I couldn't see him as anything other than a petty criminal who couldn't take the punishment he was given.

Then there are parts of this movie that are just weird in terms of action and reaction. If a child almost burns down your house by accident what would be a logical move? a) punish the kid and move the matches to a place where he couldn't find them or b) go watch a movie at the cinema. If you thought a) then you would be wrong. I know they're negligent but this is just ridiculous.

So that is the 400 Blows. In my eyes it is not a good movie but in most others it is a classic. If you want to watch it then that is fine. If you have a problem with stuff like what I said above then don't watch it.
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Not something I'd recommend for entertainment.
fordraff23 December 2000
I've seen this film about five times over the last twenty-five years. As narrative, this film is quite boring. I can never become involved with or care much for its characters. It is a depressing picture of a twelve-year-old boy who is trapped by parents and teachers, by public school, and by reform school. An American film about this subject in 1959--the year of this film--would either have tried to squeeze a tear from the audience's eye or would have tried to arouse the audience to action, and would have been presented to the audience as a sensational expose of juvenile delinquency. This film just presents its story in a straightforward, objective, slice-of-life manner. I think that's why it's so depressing.

Since I know Truffaut is a fan of Hitchcock, I thought some of the narrative line might have grown out of an episode Hitchcock often related--how his father had him locked up in jail overnight as a youth to teach him a lesson.

I feel this film is worth more as an historical item than as entertainment. For this reason, it should be taught in film courses and will have a certain impact on young, first-time viewers. Historically, it's important (1) as a film that helped form the French New Wave; (2) because Truffaut went on to become an important film director and this film is autobiographical; (3) as the first of the Antoine Doinel series, Doinel being a cinematic semi-autobiographical figure for Truffaut. Actually, I have been bored to varying degrees by all the Doinel films and find Jean-Pierre Leaud, who plays Doniel in "The 400 Blows" as well as the other films in the series, to be a nincompoop.

The technique in this film is very like the Italian neo-realist films, especially a film like "Open City." It's shot in low-contrast black and white, it's shot in actual locations around Paris; it presents a slice of life.

Despite all I've written above, I've seen many Truffaut films that I've liked very much (Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim, The Soft Skin, The Bride Wore Black, Mississippi Mermaid (complete version), The Woman Next Door, among others) but not the Antoine Doniel films.
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It's well made but it won't be on any of my top-lists.
Boba_Fett11389 October 2011
It's of course ridicules to call this movie a bad one but as far as so called new wave French movies go, this isn't the best example of it, in my opinion.

Can't really see how people can call this one of the most powerful and emotional drama's ever made, unless you perhaps had a tough youth yourself and can identify yourself with its young main character. Perhaps it's also due to the fact that it is of course being placed in a totally different time period, at also a different country and culture but personally I couldn't really place myself in his shoes because throughout the movie he's doing some things that I can't see myself ever doing or saying to someone.

But this is perhaps also one of the powers of the movie, at the same time. It's not showing things and people as just black and white, good or bad but it more shows that nobody is truly a good or a bad person. Sometimes it are certain circumstances that force us to do things in order to 'survive' in this world. Whether or not you like it, you sometimes have to do things you know you're later going to regret.

In that regard this is a quite good random slice of life, or a coming of age movie. You could take the movie both these ways really, since it for a change is a movie that entirely focuses on its young main character and tells the entire story from his perspective. It's an original but also risky approach to the genre, that in this case did work out, also really thanks to Jean-Pierre Léaud, who plays the young boy.

So it all in all really remains a well put together movie, by François Truffaut, that just didn't really ever got to me at a more emotional level. Extra praise should be send Truffaut's way though, since this movie actually was his first full length movie and he made at a quite a young age as well. Definitely not a bad first movie by him, though thankfully still he and his movies grew better over the years.

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Dated !! .. Still Not Bad Though !!
Faisal_Flamingo17 November 2006
I'm not a big fan of François Truffaut .. never was .. I don't see what is so great about his movies .. I only have seen three and I'm a little bit hesitated to watch "Fahrenheit 451".

The 400 blows has some powerful meanings and many appreciate it for its historical importance as one of the first (if not the first already) new wave movies in French cinema history.

The best thing in the movie .. in my point of view is the kid Jean-Pierre Léaud performance.

The movie is dated .. still has some of its wonderful meanings but it is not a joy to watch, I believe.

Watch it out of curiosity .. after all, it is just my opinion and you probably need a 2nd opinion about it.
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pure poetry
CUDIU22 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
No doubt, this is a masterpiece. There are at least two unforgettable sequences in this movie. The first is the puppet show, with those children's faces looking at the stage, quite out of anything that can be expressed by words... being so childish and perfectly baby-like, but at the same time so desperately resembling to the faces of us, adult spectators of movies and life. A second, extraordinary moment is the final encounter of the boy Doinel with the ocean, at the end of the movie. Out of the school-jail where they have sent him, he runs through the French countryside until he finds this long beach. When he finally reaches the water, he gives that sudden and unexpected look into the camera... that is when the movie ends, and we can't help being pervaded by a full, cosmic empathy with Antoine Doinel. Thank you Mr Truffaut.
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Luckily Truffaut didn't stop with `The Four Hundred Blows"
minnow-63 August 2000
"The Four Hundred Blows (Quatre cents coups, Les )" ***. (1959, French, R, 94 min Directed and co-written by François Truffaut with Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy). `The Four Hundred Blows' is idiomatic French for raising hell. Which I found to be a strange title after someone explained the meaning. No one in this movie is really raising hell nor forcing hell on others. Antoine Doinel (Léaud) is a 14 year-old Parisian boy and a superficial view of his life is not idyllic but hardly hellish. His mom (Maurier) isn't the most attentive person in the world. She is busy with a lot of things besides being a mom. She has a lover, a fact about his mom that isn't a point of pride with Antoine. Antoine has a stepfather (Rémy). Again, not the most attentive of parents. Antoine isn't a good student. All in all it's not the easiest of lives but nothing worth raising hell about. And the hell he raises, isn't that big a deal. He skips school. He gets caught stealing a typewriter. (Actually he gets caught returning the typewriter when he finds out he can't fence it.) Antoine ends up in a reformatory and escapes, ending up on the shores of the North Sea. In what has become a relatively famous scene from French cinema, Antoine turns back from the sea and looks straight into the camera.

What's intriguing and very good about `The Four Hundred Blows' is Truffaut's story telling techniques. It is a very straightforward telling of a few events. The camera often holds on a subject for a very long time. In one scene, a police or school psychiatrist is questioning Antoine and the camera never moves from his face. Truffaut is very matter of fact about the events of Antoine life. There are no really bad people in Antoine's life. It doesn't seem overly traumatic that he skips school, sees his mother with her lover, or that his parents agree to send him to a reform school. In the final scene on the shores of the North Sea, we see a confused and sad young kid. Is he going to lead a life of raising hell, a life of stifling boredom, or will he accomplish greatness? Truffaut doesn't tell us and it made me want to see the sequel. Luckily Truffaut didn't stop with `The Four Hundred Blows.' `Love at Twenty', `Stolen Kisses', `Bed and Board' and `Love on the Run' continue this semi-autobiographical story of the young Parisian.

`The Four Hundred Blows' is available on video. I recommend you rent it.
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The "Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort" is here the "Negligence, companionship, liveliness, or the collapse"
georgidianov13 December 2016
What a dreadful disenchantment! What a shame of life! What a pity of parents! Sorry boy, it is not your entire fault: your school mates also want to run away from those 'chaotic' kind of teachers and miserable classroom. You are not the only one willing to do it, although your brightness looks like missing from your head-box and it is probably in your 'bollocks'.

The educated ones once said: "the apple does not fall far from the tree", so Antoine darling, do not expect too much from this life, because it was your mother who drew your path since she gave you birth. What is more, did not you see her kissing that disgusting guy whilst crossing the pedestrian crossing? She does not give you money, she is not even interested in what you are studying at school... What kind of mother is that!? Yes, but do not forget to throw the garbage away...

Ah, right, I understand. Only when you missed things up she comes to you and says "if you do this, I will give you that". Oh, come on! But even so, after all your 'minor effort' in Honoré de Balzac to get better marks, here comes the other nuts scatterbrained tutor and throws away all your effort. Even I would not make any effort to study in that case.

However, remember that you have a treasure, which name is 'René'. Such a lovely friend, always helping and giving the most accurate advice. What a bad luck at the end, though, when he could not visit his friend Antoine, after a long journey with the bicycle.

But, at any rate, Antoine is a good kid. When he has to take away the garbage he does it. When he has to study, he also does it. Even when his tutor tells him off and orders him to clean or do anything, he is listening! Let us not forget that after stealing the typewriter, it was him who decided to go back and leave it from where he took it, and it was not his Chicken-René-friend.

I truly believe that François Truffaut wanted to show us the 'lack of child guidance' combined with the unhappy home life, Antoine's mistakes and his behavior towards the consequences. This movie reminded me of both Billy Elliot and Forrest Gump, given the fact that all characters are running towards desperate destinations, in a crucial time of their lives.

I enjoyed the movie and the French expressions, but I disagree that this movie is better than Ben-Hur (1959) or Strangers on a Train (1951).
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All you need is love
Prismark1030 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The title of the film is The 400 Blows but it is actually an expression for 'Raising Hell.'

Made in 1959 in a cinema verite style. This is the full screen debut of Francois Truffaut and an example of the French New Wave. It was a critical hit.

Jean-Pierre Leaud plays Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood teenager in Paris who constantly gets into trouble at school and an at home. Doinel is based partly on Truffaut himself.

Doinel finds school boring, does not get on with his teachers who usually catch him telling lies including an embarrassing one where in a panic he tells that one of his parent has died.

At home he is alone a lot as both of his parents are working. His glamorous mother (Claire Maurier) seems to have little time for him. He gets on better with his father (Albert Remy) who is more playful but as the film progresses, he is actually the step-father and you also learn that his mother is having an affair.

Doinel wants love but his step- father seems too weak (he suspects his wife is cheating) his mother too busy but he seems happiest when she does give him attention such as towelling him down after a bath.

Doinel and his best friend Rene get into all sorts of scrapes and petty crime. Several times Doinel runs away from home and sleeps rough.

He gets caught stealing a typewriter from his stepfather's workplace and comes into the attention of the police, social services and the judiciary. At the end he is sent to a young offender's institute that he also runs away from and onto a beach to what looks like an uncertain future.

However Truffaut would re-visit Doinel over the course of his directing career.

Watching this film it becomes apparent how much this influenced the British New Wave in the 1960s. So much of this film reminded me of Kes by Ken Loach with its naturalistic acting styles.

Just look at the mischievous scene where the sports teacher takes the class for a walk around the streets of Paris and the kids disappear few at a time. Then there is the very naturalistic scene at the Punch & Judy show where the much younger kids are enjoying themselves.

The city is a playground but when Doinel is living rough it is also oppressive and scary.

Of course as time has gone on the shock value of the out of control adolescent has been lost with newer, more franker films.

The French New Wave also had a different way of telling stories in the cinema that someone like me brought up on a diet of junk Hollywood blockbusters might not always appreciate. The film can be a little too wayward and loose.

However the final freeze frame of a boy fulfilling his dream of seeing the sea but still alone and lost is regarded as a classic. Apparently this is the first time a film ends in a freeze frame.
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Maybe good if you study film, otherwise very boring
laelia12319 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This movie bewilders me. It may be that I'm just a stupid American, but I really just don't get 400 Blows. Everything I've read about this movie has been a total rave, but I just couldn't stay interested. I'm sure that it was as revolutionary in film-making as all the critics say, but when it boils right down to it, it's just really really boring. Maybe it's the language barrier, may I'm just not "sensitive" or "artsy" enough, but whatever the case is, I hated this movie. The story itself isn't bad; it's about a young French boy who is treated unfairly by his parents and his teachers, and eventually he ends up in a juvenile facility. That in itself ought to be interesting, and it was, at first. There was nothing wrong with the dialogue, but then again it's hard to say because half of the conversations weren't subtitled and for no apparent reason, so I didn't always know what was going on. But for the dialogue we could understand, it made enough sense. The actors were believable enough, but it's hard to say what a real person would do in these situations. So you feel for the main character, but only in the sense that when he gets into trouble you think, well that sucks. The plot isn't even your typical plot. Each time he gets in trouble, he gets into more trouble than the last time, but the reasons never vary too much. And through the entire film you realize that there's nothing the main character can really do about it. So it's more like just waiting to see how it ends. The ending, by the way, was completely over my head. It's way too artsy for me, and I just didn't get it. Leading up to the end was easy enough to follow. The structure was certainly there, and it made sense as well, but everything was really drawn out. For the amount of dialogue and significant moments, the movie could have been an hour shorter. It just didn't end. Part of it was the unnecessarily long shots, none of which were especially memorable; for example, the ending was a clip of the main character running down a country road that lasted a good thirty seconds. Now, I'm sure that had some deeper meaning in it somewhere, but for the average viewer, I'd rather have gotten up to get some more food during that time. Or at least done something a little more useful than sit and watch this boy running, like doing my laundry, or taking a nap.

Final Verdict

The feeling throughout the whole movie was that this probably would be very moving and just amazing and that it would teach me some great life lesson, if I could only get what the director was trying to say by his… unique decisions. As it was, I just felt cheated out of a good two hours of my life.
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