Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows, 1959)

"I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between."--Francois Truffaut
The 400 Blows is the debut outing for  French director François Truffaut, who arrived in the filmmaking arena after taking a detour through film criticism. (During the years when he wrote for André Bazin's "Cahiers du Cinéma," Truffaut developed a reputation as being an acerbic, unforgiving critic.) Along with Godard, Rohmer, Malle, Vadim, and Chabrol (amongst others), Truffaut was one of the founding auteurs of the French "New Wave" cinema - a philosophy that sought to enliven the Gaelic motion picture industry by taking bold chances and telling personal stories. 
Les Quatre Cents Coups became one of the first and most influential of the French New Wave films (it was released around the same time as Godard's Breathless), and, as such, was at the vanguard of a movement that had a worldwide impact on movie-making for more than a decade.

400 Coups title comes from French expression "faire les 400 coups" , which loosely translates to "lead wild and undisciplined life"  , so literal translation of the English title makes very little sense.

Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is a 13-year-old boy who keeps getting into trouble at school. His parents do their best to keep him in line but lack understanding. After being found out and punished for skipping classes, he runs away from home and spends a night on the streets. Reconciliation with his parents seems to offer hope, until he’s caught red-handed in the act of stealing a typewriter. His mother hands him over to the authorities who send him to a reform school. From here he makes another break for freedom, but, standing on the shore, looking out to sea, he finds himself alone with nowhere left to run to.
Les Quatre Cents Coups was widely acclaimed on its release, winning numerous awards, including the Best Director Award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. Luminaries such as Jean Cocteau praised the film highly and journalists were quick to associate it with the New Wave of films coming out of France. Today, it remains as moving and eloquent as ever, and is considered by many to be one of the best films ever made.
Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" (1959) is one of the most intensely touching stories ever made about a young adolescent. Inspired by Truffaut's own early life, it shows a resourceful boy growing up in Paris and apparently dashing headlong into a life of crime. Adults see him as a troublemaker. We are allowed to share some of his private moments, as when he lights a candle before a little shrine to Balzac in his bedroom. The film's famous final shot, a zoom in to a freeze frame, shows him looking directly into the camera. He has just run away from a house of detention, and is on the beach, caught between land and water, between past and future. It is the first time he has seen the sea.

The end sequence, culminating in his arrival at a vast lonely shore, is mysterious. Antoine runs away from his correctional facility, and his escape seems to morph into something else; without an immediate pursuer, it becomes an intuition, or premonition, of the lonely long-distance run he has endured and will continue to endure.


Les Quatre Cents coups Dossier pédagogique>>>


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