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Les Quatre Cents Coups
UKScreen Rating:

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Twelve year old Antoine Doinel (Léaud) lives in a pokey Paris flat with his mother and her husband – the couple are poor and generally inattentive – except when there’s something to berate him for.
His ruthlessly domineering teacher makes life at school even more unbearable than at home.
His only escape from the shackles of everyday life is to bunk off school with his one friend, go to the fairground or visit the cinema: anyone would think there was an autobiographical element to this debut film from the critic-turned-cineaste…!
Antoine’s problems deepen as frustration, desperation and loneliness lead to his expulsion from school, running away from home and being sent to a residential centre for delinquents.
It’s probably not going too far to say this is the coming-of-age film that defined a generation.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

This film is a landmark in modern cinema, launching the French New Wave and turning François Truffaut from a critic into one of the world’s most distinguished film makers – something many other critics, no doubt, would love to emulate…ahem…anyway…
It’s hard to put the significance of this film into context – like Citizen Kane, watching it decades after it was first released, it’s hard to imagine the impact it must have had, the first time around.
There are two outstanding talents at work here. As Antoine Doinel, the young Jean-Pierre Léaud delivers a tremendously deep, sympathetic, and heart-breakingly convincing performance as Truffaut’s alter ego – a role which he would reprise four times over the following 20 years. And Truffaut himself, in his first feature, displays the directorial flair that would make him such an influential auteur Take, for example, a remarkably revealing scene in which Antoine opens up to a psychologist: it’s shot from her point of view, with Antoine confessing his feelings directly into the camera.
From the start, this film was earning him nominations for awards at the Oscars, the BAFTAs and Cannes.
“The 400 Blows” is more than semi-autobiographical. Both Antoine and the young Truffaut were social outcasts – failures at school, who turned to delinquency, ran away from home, and ended up in custody.
But most significantly, as would become apparent throughout Truffaut’s career, the one thing that made their lives worth living was their passion for cinema.
Antoine Doinel will be a breath of fresh air for council estate kids who feel they have little to live for – but how do you get a reissue of a black-and-white 1959 French film out to them?
We live in a different world now, but fifty years on, we still have dysfunctional families and social misfits and cinema can still be a uniting factor – but there’s a sense in which one might wonder why, with such powerful social commentaries as this, the world hasn’t moved on as much as we might like.
Uninspired by life in the way that Antoine Doinel is uninspired by school, maybe we just don’t learn the lessons.

Reissued nationwide 10th April 2009

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