Francois Truffaut (director)
99 minutes (length)
April 25, 2022 (published)
Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), 12, is a young Parisian who not only feels misunderstood by his parents, because neither of them ever seems to have much time for him. His stepfather Julien (Albert Rémy) earns his living by working in an office and on the weekends usually attends the races. Maman Gilberte (Claire Maurier) works part-time when she’s not busy with household chores, but that doesn’t stop her from investing a lot of time in her beauty. The parents usually bicker over finances (or the lack of finances, rather) – moreover, Gilberte never misses an opportunity to blame her husband for his apparent lack of ambition when he isn’t feeling resentful of his son. No wonder Antoine prefers to spend his time outside of this troubled home environment, but things aren’t much better at school. A daydreamer and a compulsive liar by nature, he does not agree with his severe teacher (Guy Decomble) whom the students call “Sourpuss”. Along with his best friend René Bigey (Patrick Auffay), Antoine mostly skips class and indulges in petty theft as they both roam the streets of Paris trying to come up with excuses as to why they don’t. did not attend classes. (Again). During one incident, Antoine nearly manages to win Professor Sourpuss’ sympathy when he claims his poor mother died years ago as a result of which he often feels morbid and distracted during class. Unfortunately for the troubled teenager, his stepfather and mother show up at school a few days later when a concerned classmate of Antoine inquires about his apparent illness after he fails to turn up. presented in class. Seeing that his mother is actually very much alive, and realizing that the boy is lying continuously the minute he opens his mouth, harsh disciplinary action is suggested, though Julien scolds his stressed wife for being too hard on her son, the thus pushing back.
For a short while things seem to be looking up until the two boys are skipping school again and strolling the streets carefree when Antoine spots his mother standing in the corner kissing passionately a man… who is not her stepfather! My God! Likewise, Gilberte spots her son and is puzzled that he is not at school when he should be – however, for obvious reasons, the incident is not mentioned by either of them. another during dinner. After a long talk with his mother, she promises to nurture his creative side if he promises to go to school regularly from now on. The “deal” seems to work (at least for a while) and Antoine, who adores the French novelist Honoré de Balzac, builds a makeshift shrine in his room which is nothing more than a small cabinet with pictures of Balzac. and pages from some of his works. One evening, Antoine lights a candle next to the photo of Balzac, a madness that almost sets the apartment ablaze! His furious father wants to punish him for his irresponsible behavior although mum, concerned about keeping domestic peace, suggests they should all go to the movies instead. When Professor Sourpuss asks his students to write an essay, Antoine does not hesitate to quote entire sentences from certain works by Balzac. Unfortunately Monsieur “Sourpuss” knows only too well the work of the great man and accuses Antoine of having shamelessly plagiarized the great French novelist. After another class spat, Antoine decides enough is enough and runs away for the umpteenth time – vowing never to return. After various petty thefts, Antoine manages to break into his stepfather’s workplace and steal his typewriter with the intention of reselling it. Too bad it’s an extremely heavy model and neither he nor Rene will have a chance of whipping it anytime soon, in fact both boys are fed up with dragging the heavy object around. Therefore, Antoine decides it’s best to return him to his stepfather’s workplace, but no prizes for guessing that he gets caught. No more forgiveness this time, his stepfather is finally fed up and drags Antoine to the local police station to denounce his stepson for theft and vagrancy. The parents are at their wit’s end and when Gilberte admits to the police inspector that Julien is not Antoine’s biological father, which further complicates the whole situation, the inspector offers to place Antoine in a center for observation for young offenders to see if it will improve his character. Suffice to say, it’s only a matter of time before Antoine manages to escape and – free as the wind – run to the nearby seaside because that’s a place he has. always wanted to visit.
Anyone who has ever read about director Truffaut’s childhood will observe the similarities between the fictional Antoine Doinel and his own troubled upbringing, with him being born out of wedlock (just like Antoine) and going from nanny to nanny and finally to his grandmother. before his biological his mother and stepfather took him in when he was eight years old. Much like the character of Antoine, Truffaut hated school and authority and had a lifelong best friend in Robert Lacheney (later to become a film critic) and inspired Antoine’s best friend René Bigey. Although the character of Antoine Doinel is fictional (although based on Truffaut), he would reappear in some later films in what the director called his “Antoine Doinel cycle”.
Gloriously restored in 4K, THE 400 BLOWS (LES QUATRE CENTS COUPS) offers the following Features:
Commentary by Robert Lachenay; on-screen test footage from 1957 with Jean-Pierre Léaud, Patrick Auffay and Richard Kanayan; Truffaut’s 1957 short “Les Mistons” about a band of mischievous school friends on summer vacation; archive images of Paris from 1901 to 1914; the presentation by film academician C. Wheatley on Truffaut, Bazin and Renoir; Trailers; Image gallery and illustrated booklet (first pressing only).