The 400 Blows (French: Les Quatre Cents Coups) is a 1959 French drama film, the debut by director François Truffaut; it stars Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, and Claire Maurier. One of the defining films of the French New Wave, it displays many of the characteristic traits of the movement. Written by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, the film is about Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood adolescent in Paris who struggles with his parents and teachers due to his rebellious behavior. Filmed on location in Paris and Honfleur, it is the first in a series of five films in which Léaud plays the semi-autobiographical character.
The 400 Blows received numerous awards and nominations, including the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director, the OCIC Award, and a Palme d'Or nomination in 1959. The film was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing in 1960. The 400 Blows had a total of 4,092,970 admissions in France, making it Truffaut's most successful film in his home country.
The 400 Blows is widely considered one of the best French films in the history of cinema; in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll of the greatest films ever made, it was ranked 39th.
Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a young boy growing up in Paris during the 1950s. Misunderstood by his parents for playing truant from school and stealing, and tormented in school for discipline problems by his teacher (Guy Decomble), (Antoine falsely explains his being away from school was due to his mother's death), Antoine frequently runs away from both places. The boy finally quits school after being caught plagiarizing Balzac by his teacher. He steals a typewriter from his stepfather's (Albert Remy) work place to finance his plans to leave home, but is apprehended while trying to return it.
The stepfather turns Antoine over to the police and Antoine spends the night in jail, sharing a cell with prostitutes and thieves. During an interview with the judge, Antoine’s mother confesses that her husband is not Antoine’s biological father. Antoine is placed in an observation center for troubled youths near the seashore (as per his mother's wishes). A psychologist at the center probes reasons for Antoine's unhappiness, which the youth reveals in a fragmented series of monologues.
One day, while playing football with the other boys, Antoine escapes under a fence and runs away to the ocean, a place he has wanted to visit his entire life. He reaches the shoreline of the sea and runs into it. The film concludes with a freeze-frame of Antoine, and the camera optically zooms in on his face, looking into the camera.
The English title is a literal translation of the French but misses its meaning, as the French title refers to the idiom "faire les quatre cents coups", which means "to raise hell". On the first prints in the United States, subtitler and dubber Noelle Gillmor gave the film the title Wild Oats, but the distributor did not like that and reverted it to The 400 Blows. Before seeing it, some people thought the film covered the topic of corporal punishment.
The semi-autobiographical film reflects events of Truffaut's and his friends' lives. In style, it expresses Truffaut's personal history of French film, with references to other works—most notably a scene borrowed wholesale from Jean Vigo's Zéro de conduite. Truffaut dedicated the film to the man who became his spiritual father, André Bazin, who died just as the film was about to be shot.
Besides being a character study, the film is an exposé of the injustices of the treatment of juvenile offenders in France at the time.Avenue Frochot, Paris 9, Paris, France
Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, Paris 7, Paris, France
Honfleur, Calvados, France
Montmartre, Paris 18, Paris, France
Palais de Chaillot, Trocadéro, Paris 16, Paris, France
Pigalle, Paris 9, Paris, France
Rue Fontaine, Paris, France
Sacré Cœur, Paris 18, Paris, France
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 Awards. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 32nd Academy Awards. The film holds a very rare 100% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 54 reviews.
The film is among the top ten of the British Film Institute's list of 50 films that should be seen by age 14.
Truffaut made four other films with Léaud depicting Antoine at later stages of his life. He meets his first love, Colette, in Antoine and Colette, which was Truffaut's contribution to the 1962 anthology Love at Twenty. He falls in love with Christine Darbon (Claude Jade) in Stolen Kisses. He marries Christine in Bed and Board, but the couple have separated in Love on the Run.
Filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel, Satyajit Ray, Jean Cocteau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Richard Lester and Norman Jewison have cited The 400 Blows as one of their favorite movies. Kurosawa called it "one of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen".
The film was ranked #29 in Empire magazine's list of "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010.
The festival poster for the 71st Venice International Film Festival paid tribute to the film as it featured the character of Antoine Doinel portrayed by Jean-Pierre Léaud.