Ewan Gleadow

Review: The 400 Blows – 60th Anniversary

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There are so many astoundingly different facets of cinema that it often feels impossible to cover them all.  

The best a film enthusiast can do is try and take in as many classics as possible, and to me that sounded like a good way of shaping my viewing over the next few months. My foray into new wave French cinema couldn’t have begun with anyone but Francois Truffaut and his highly regarded The 400 Blows 

A semi-autobiographical piece, The 400 Blows is the first in a series of films that document the life of Truffaut. Through his intense and unique blend of direction and artistry, we get a great view into the life of Antoine Doinel, a schoolboy who persistently runs away from home. What’s so intensely amazing about this movie is its leading performance from the surprisingly great Jean-Pierre Léaud. 

My main problem with most child actors is that they’re usually not very good. Luckily, Truffaut seems to have cast one of the finest actors available to him at the time, with Jean-Pierre a very fitting and enjoyable lead character. He presents a strange optimism in times of hardship and youthful rebellion and it becomes clear rather quickly that this contrasts sharply with the conservative, often depressed adults. 

So, it would surprise you then that The 400 Blows isn’t exactly a movie that paints itself with colours of freedom or anything of the sort.  The supposed ‘freedoms’ of running away from home (a fantasy all of us have indulged in at one time or another) are never really arrived at; instead, it splashes realism into the fantasy, showing us everything it would entail.

Truffaut’s eye for direction is superb and it leads to some lengthy shots that are crafted masterfully.  A keen hand on the pacing of the film greatly helps too, with The 400 Blows not overstaying its welcome, yet at the same time managing to address its story in the most marvellous fashion. A strong supporting trio of Albert Rémy, Claire Maurier and Guy Decomble are also tremendously entertaining as a minor antagonists. 

Truffaut’s The 400 Blows has held up extremely well in the long stretch of time since its release. His direction stands out as some of the most influential in all of cinema. It suffers somewhat from one or two smaller performances and the weaker second act of the movie but, aside from those minor issues, The 400 Blows is an accessible and thoroughly brilliant piece of French New Wave cinema.