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400 Blows/1959

After rather binging on Hollywood, it’s time for a change and what better to revisit than the French New Wave cinema of the late 1950s?

Quartre Cents Coups  (400 Blows) was Franois Truffaut’s directorial debut aged 27 and is rightly revered as a classic.

The story is of 14 year old Antone Doinel, a rebellious youth whom neither his school nor his parents can control nor contain, but somehow notwithstanding the incessant discipline from Authority and emotional abuse from his mother and stepfather his spirit stays intact.

It’s made on a low budget and set in Paris and Honfleur.

It’s not the glamourous romanticised Paris of An American in Paris but a gritty Paris filmed in black and white.

The cast is primarily children and Jean Claude Leaud as Doinel is exceptional.

His love of the cinema clearly reflects Truffaut.

The cinema and emerging from youth became a well-worn theme best exemplified in Peter Bogdanovich’s Last Picture Show and Cinema Paradiso but Truffaut can be said to have started it off.

As with many French films it can be slow and the end – when he runs to the sea escaping borstal – is very much in the air.

There is no closing of the narrative but the symbolism that Doinel, locked up by his parents, his school and borstal and – literally – the police, is now liberated and free.

Watch out for Jeanne Moreau who was to star in Jules et Jim, my favourite French film of all time, in a minor role trying to locate her lost dog.

Francois Truffaut and many other directors of New Wave (Jean Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, Alain Resnais and Claude Chabrol) were contributors to the influential Cahiers du Cinema.  

They were called auteurs  for their ownership over their work.

They knew their cinema history and were admirers of old Hollywood and above all Alfred Hitchcock.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts