The 400 Blows (1959) – Francois Truffaut

The next big title in DK Canada’s The Movie Book may be my new favourite Truffaut film, and his first full length feature.

The story, partially created by Truffaut, follows young Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) a boy living in Paris, where his parents are having problems, and they all feel trapped in their tiny apartment.

Skipping school one day, young Antoine realises his mother (Claire Maurier) is having an affair, and while not the catalyst for all the tiny (but escalating) problems after, it definitely adds to his rebelliousness.

With almost no one to mind him, his hooky grows to minor thefts, until his parents, and the law catches up to him, and he’s sent to a Juvenile Delinquent Centre.

The film is a beautiful to look at and Truffaut tells his story with an innocence and honesty that conveys childhood perfectly. We see young Doniel’s little escapades growing more troublesome until they are no longer amusing and even the viewer realises he has to pay for his transgressions.

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Through it all, he only has one dream, and that is to see a body of water bigger than the Seine, he’s never seen the ocean, or anything akin to it. But is entering the body of water, something that is almost glimpsed at the end of the film, the same as cleansing and washing off the sins he has committed?

This was an incredibly well-made film, engrossing, entertaining, alternately touching and humorous. There are some perfect little moments, that not only centre stage the characters and the story.

What I think is done well is the way that things start small, just a young boy and his friends having fun, but through lies, getting caught in them, as well as other incidents, make things so much worse for the young man.

It’s absolutely amazing to me that this was Truffaut’s first film, it’s beautifully shot, edited. This was such a great film, and Truffaut gets such a great performance out of Leaud. There is a a naturalness to the boy’s performance that brings youth to life in a way that doesn’t always happen on-screen.

It just feels real. And the story works. It’s a great look at a time period, long gone, and a time capsule of Paris.

Truffaut was a master, and this one proves it. If you haven’t seen it, add it to your list, and if you have, maybe it’s time for a revisit. Or, even better, you could pick up a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book and find a classic to watch tonight.

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