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In the late 1950s a group of iconoclastic young French film critics who had been attacking the established French cinema began to make their own very personal films. Among them was Francois Truffaut, just 26 years old, who had first proposed what came to be known as the auteur theory - that the director is the author of a film.
For his first feature, Truffaut dug deep into his own troubled childhood to paint an unforgettable portrait of an adolescent whose resilience is tested by unloving parents and clueless teachers. The French title of The 400 Blows (1959) comes from the idiom, "faire les quatre cents coups," meaning "to raise hell." But young Antoine Doinel (an extraordinary performance by Jean-Pierre Leaud) isn't really a hellraiser. He's just trying to sort out the confusion of his life. As Truffaut put it, "I wanted to express this feeling that adolescence is a bad moment to get through."
The 400 Blows was shot in less than two months, in real locations, for only $50,000. Technically, it is a remarkably confident and accomplished film for a first-time director. Truffaut was fortunate to have an experienced cinematographer, Henri Decae, who worked very fast and liked to use natural light. The exteriors, with Decae's fluid tracking shots, reflect the freedom and spontaneity with which Antoine and his friend Rene roam Parisian streets. (Look for Jeanne Moreau in a cameo as the lady with the dog.) And the final freeze-frame of Antoine as he faces an uncertain future has become one of the New Wave's emblematic images.
Truffaut and Leaud would revisit the life of Antoine Doinel four times over the next twenty years, but never as memorably as in The 400 Blows. It is a coming-of-age film not just for Antoine, but for Leaud, Truffaut, and the New Wave.
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard, Marcel Moussy (based on a story by Francois Truffaut)
Cinematography: Henri Decae
Editor: Marie-Josephe Yoyotte
Music: Jean Constantin
Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud (Antoine Doinel), Claire Maurier (Mme. Doinel), Albert Remy (Mon. Doinel), Guy Decomble (Teacher), cameos by Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Claude Brialy & Jacques Demy.
In French with English subtitles
by Margarita Landazuri