Film #154: The 400 Blows (1959)

400aka: Les quatres cents coups
Director: François Truffaut
Language: French and a little English
Length: 99 minutes
Watched on: 14 July 2015 (1 of 4 on my flight back to Japan)

After my trip to the UK, I actually went to Amsterdam for a couple of days before heading back to Japan. Convolutedly, this ended up with me getting a flight back via Paris on Air France. This in turn meant that I had the rare opportunity to watch some classic French cinema on the entertainment system (actually, on the KLM flight I’d had the opportunity to watch some Dutch cinema, but it turns out that this is mostly unappealing, so I’d given up). The 400 Blows is one of those few movies that often comes up on recommended lists that I haven’t yet seen, so I picked this one to start off with.

The film is about a boy, I think probably an author insert by director Truffaut, who is essentially very naughty, and his antics as he skips school and turns to petty crime of one kind or another.

It’s easy to see why it appeals to anyone with a rebellious streak, and there are plenty of comedic moments throughout the movie, but perhaps the subject matter is quite dark, as the boy spirals out of control and the poverty of his parents becomes more obvious – eventually he ends up in a juvenile correction facility.

It’s more accurate to say that it’s fondly remembered for its cinematography and other filmmaking techniques and themes than its outstanding subject matter, though. I thought the way the film was shot was often very unique, personally. It’s very much in the French New Wave, even a defining member of that movement, and this definitely shows.

One of the movie’s strengths, I believe, is that viewers are always invited to sympathize with the kid, and he’s played well despite being universally despised by all the adults in the story. I didn’t feel like my emotions were being manipulated at this point, too. I guess I’d recommend it, but only if you already have an interest in older French cinema or New Wave in particular. It’s a completely different kind of movie than those that are usually shown these days!


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