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The 400 Blows

Les Quatre Cent Coups (The 400 Blows) (1959) is a French film directed by François Truffaut. more...

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The story revolves around Antoine Doinel, an adolescent in Paris, who is thought by his parents and teachers to be a trouble maker. The title of the film is a French idiomatic expression which means roughly "Raising Hell". (Legend has it the young Weinstein brothers attended "The 400 Blows" believing it to be racy European fare. They were so moved by the experience it led to a deep and enduring love of film and eventually to their founding Miramax.)

This film is admittedly autobiographical, reflecting many of the events of Truffaut's own life. It is dedicated to the man who became his spiritual father, André Bazin, who died just as the film was about to be released.

The 400 Blows is, besides a character study, an exposé of the injustices of the treatment of juvenile offenders in France at the time.

The film

Antoine was born while his mother was unmarried (as is revealed later in the film). Afterwards she married an older man to "give him a name." She is unhappy in her married life and resents Antoine because of the situation. The family is financially insecure, and Antoine is poorly dressed and poorly fed, and sleeps in a sleeping bag (which he prefers because "at least it's warm") on a cot crammed next to the back entrance to the apartment. Both his mother and his step-father consider him an unwanted burden.

He engages in a series of childish pranks, usually at the instigation of his schoolmates, and bears the blame for each of them.

Eventually, at the instigation of his friend René, he pilfers a typewriter from his father's workplace. After he and René find that it cannot be pawned, he attempts to return it. When he is apprehended by the night-watchman (or, perhaps, the concierge) his step-father turns him in to the police.

After his arrest his mother effectively surrenders control over him to the investigating magistrate, saying that he is incorrigible, leaving him to the "mercy" of the French judicial system. Antoine is put in a detention center, and then a work camp.

His mother makes no plea for leniency, rather she agrees to his commitment to the work camp.

He eventually escapes. The film ends on the famous freeze-frame where Antoine is on a beach with his feet in the surf, looking back to the shore, with no place left to flee. He had never seen the sea before.

During his interrogation at the detention center it comes out that, instead of being raised with his mother and step-father, he has usually been shuffled off to his other relatives.


The film was widely acclaimed, winning numerous awards, including the Best Director award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, the Critics Award of the 1959 New York Film Critics' Circle and the Best European Film Award at 1960's Bodil Award. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 1959 Academy Awards, and lost to Pillow Talk.


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