Francois Truffaut's first feature was this 1959 portrait of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a boy who turns to petty crime in the face of neglect at home and hard times at a reform school. Somewhat autobiographical for... more » its director, the film helped usher in the heady spirit of the French New Wave, and introduced the Doinel character, who became a fixture in Truffaut's movies over the years. Poignant, exhilarating, and fun (there's a parade of cameo appearances from some of the essential icons and directors from the movement), this film is an important classic. --Tom Keogh« less
"I've spent decades avoiding THE 400 BLOWS, afraid it was either dark and brooding, or a documentation of child abuse (physical and/or emotional), or an angry and vindictive assault on the authors' of Francois Truffaut's traumatic childhood.
I shouldn't have worried. THE 400 BLOWS is a gentle and compassionate movie. It isn't overwhelmed by its anger, although a few characters, particularly the coming-of-age hero's mother and his school teacher, aren't terribly sympathetic. Being new to THE 400 BLOWS, I found the commentary by Premiere magazine film critic Glen Kenny especially helpful in understanding French New Wave cinema in general and Truffaut in particular. By the way, according to Kenny "400 blows" refers to a French colloquialism similar to the American "paint the town red." It means to give oneself over to every type of excess, and raise a little heck in the process."
A True-to-the-Bones-and-Heart Modern Day Dickensian Fable
M. Tsang | NYC | 02/12/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The most heart-felt movie I've ever seen is a powerful mix of sharp-eye, hardhitting autobiographical remembrance of a nearly bruised childhood and a celebration of the wide-open, spontaneous and lyrical qualities of cinema to capture pointed truths of family, school and street lives as seen through the curiously haunted eyes of one Antoine Doinel, a modern-day Dickensian hero in a decidedly unglamours Paris, searching, often wrongheadly, for love and acceptance while, almost against himself, challenging the authorial rules imposed on children growing up in conformist post-WWII France. The film's tone is one of anguished bittersweetness and quiet defiance, counterpointed by bursts of joyful freedom and naughty prank playings as shared by many in their pre-adolescenthood. Doniel's friendship with the well-off but neglected Rene is also among the most moving portraits of childhood friendship ever. An unforgettable portrait, a cutting social study, a New Wave classic and Truffaut's best, but most importantly a timeless and univsersal "true" story. And yes, the last freeze, when it comes, is a stunner. Gosh, I just love it! (P.S., this relatively small and quiet masterpiece also happens to be the all-time favorite film of John Woo, imagine!)"
Get this one only if you are not interested in all the Doine
Doctor Trance | MA, United States | 05/19/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"However, if you are a fan of this entire film series by Truffaut, then you should spring for the Adventures of Antoine Doinel boxed set. It comes with all the extras found on this disc, plus a bonus disc which features excerpts from a 1961 documentary on Truffaut, which touches on this film, and a promotional art gallery for this film. Neither of these bonus features are found on this disc, nor is the bonus short film, Antoine and Colette, which is on the 400 Blows' disc in the boxed set. Great if you only want this movie, but I'd pay the extra dough as it's well worth it to have the entire Criterion boxed set, which is loaded with extras covering all the other films."
A classic, heartfelt coming of age story
Zev Bazarov | S. FL | 12/13/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In Francois Truffaut's debut, award winning film, he paints visually the pain and joy of childhood, through a semi-autobiographical account of a 13 year old boy living in France. Antoine, lives with his mother and father in an apartment, on minimum finance. He gets into trouble at school, time after time, and at home his parents punish him, but at heart, he is a good kid. He decides to run away, but his parents find him, and they begin to treat him nicer. But when he gets suspended from school, he runs away for good. He begins stealing, and he gets caught. After he stays at a special home for juvenile delinquents, he escapes and his spirit prevails. This story is very moving, and entertaining. You get pulled into the young boy's life, and can relate with him. After you see how he keeps hope and prevails, it creates a warm feeling, and inspires you. The direction is perfect, and the director won the Best Director at Cannes Film Festival. I highly recommend those who wish to watch a fun, entertaining tale of hope and faith in the face of seemingly endless problems. 5 stars."
Sympathetic and engaging
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 05/24/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"An idiomatic translation of the French title of this movie, Les quatre cents coup, would be something like "Raising Hell," understood ironically. Twelve-year-old Antoine Doinel, played very winningly by Jean-Pierre Leaud, doesn't suffer "400 blows," although he does get mistreated quite a bit, and he doesn't mean to raise hell or to be a problem to his parents or society. He's just a boy being a boy. Unfortunately his mother (Claire Mauier), who is more like a wicked step-mother than the boy's biological mother (although she is that) would like to be rid of him so that she can spend more time pursuing her hobby, which is adultery. His cuckolded step-father (Albert Remy) is no help, although he seems to care more for the boy than his mother. And the institutions of society, as represented by his school, the Parisian police, and the social services people, seem intent on turning poor Antoine into a criminal. Truffaut ends the movie at a spot where it is still far from clear where Antoine is really headed, but we can guess that his spirit will be undaunted.Some have called this, Francois Truffaut's first feature, realism, but if it's realism, so is Charles Dickens. This is an extended slice of life, a coming-of-ager stopped before the boy does become of age, and in this sense original. Truffaut paints everybody but the boy and his best friend in such a negative hue that we cannot help but identify with Antoine. This is not realism, but it doesn't matter because this is a splendid film, perhaps not as great as some have claimed, but very much worth watching because of Leaud's fine performance and Truffaut's original and charming presentation of Paris in the 1950s. In one sense Truffaut makes the City of Light a child's playground, and in another, it is a repressive, indifferent monolith. Antoine's transgressions--ditching school, telling lies, stealing from his grandmother--are trivial. But Truffaut wants to make sure we don't misunderstand so he has the boy get into trouble for (1) having a magazine passed to him in class, (2) unconsciously memorizing Balzac (he is accused of plagiarism by his fascist teacher) (3) returning a typewriter, which admittedly he had lifted, and (4) lighting a candle in honor of Balzac (which starts a fire).My favorite scene is the one with the psychiatrist in which we hear her questions, but the camera stays on Antoine. His candid, eminently reasonable and entirely sane answers to her questions demonstrate that he is a completely normal, even admirable boy, and that it is society and its stupid adults that are off the mark.The faces of the children at the Punch and Judy show are wonderful and the sequence of Antoine running and running so gracefully and seemingly with little effort symbolizes the longing that all children have to be free.While I think this famous movie is perhaps a little over-rated, I can tell you that if you haven't seen it you are in danger of being labeled a cinematic illiterate."