Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 4: The 400 Blows

4. The 400 Blows (1959)
Drama, 99 minutes, French Language
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, Albert Remy and Claire Maurier

The first time I ever saw Francois Truffaut was in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I had no idea that he was anything more than a supporting actor at the time. I used to shun subtitled films because it was too much effort to read them, or so I supposed. Then, a few years ago, I decided to borrow a few Criterion films from my local library to see what all the fuss was about. The 400 Blows was the first of those titles.

I learned that the French New Wave wasn't some type of musical genre. I still haven't seen as many Truffaut films as I would like, but this is one I keep returning to. The story concerns the childhood of 12-year-old Antoine Doinel. He lives with his mother and stepfather and they largely ignore him. The film shows what happens at school in a very realistic way. Antoine doesn't like school and often skips classes. We see him wandering around the town, lying and stealing, but he doesn't seem to be a bad kid. His passions include reading Balzac and sneaking off to the cinema.

The 400 Blows is semi-autobiographical and gives the viewer some idea of Truffaut's own childhood. The story is touching and Antoine seems like a good person in a bad situation. This is one of the best films about childhood that I have seen. If you're not put off by subtitles or black and white films, this is definitely a story to check out. Criterion's presentation is fantastic as always.

If you like The 400 Blows:

There are four more Truffaut films about Antoine Doinel, and Jean-Pierre Leaud stars in all of them. They include Antoine and ColetteStolen Kisses, Bed and Board and Love on the Run.

If you enjoy films about childhood, another powerful story is Au Revoir Les Enfants, directed by Louis Malle.

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