François Truffaut’s debut feature The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups, 1959) was welcomed at Cannes Film Festival to overwhelming praise and admiration. Proclaimed as being one of the defining films of the French New Wave, The 400 Blows contains several techniques that became synonymous with the movement.
The film features many technical and storytelling elements that were considered both posh and rebellious at the time of its creation, such as the long tracking shot, arguably the most famous scene in the film. The camera follows adolescent protagonist Antoine Doinel (Truffaut’s cinematic alter-ego) as he runs for an extended length of time toward his “future”, existentialist and nihilistic themes in which Antoine questions the point of school and living a “normal” life, and the (possible) absurdity of life in general.
The story centers around Antoine, his education, his peers, and 1950s Paris. Antoine’s relationship with his parents is nothing to boast about either. His mother and father take opposing sides when it comes to disciplining their son, and they argue with one another several times in the film.
Antoine’s relations with his schoolteacher are not any better. He is constantly performing some act of a mischief during class time, whether it’s up front or behind the scenes. His mischief goes out and beyond the classroom, too, and Antoine eventually ends up paying the penalty for his crimes against the established order.
Ultimately, Antoine becomes so fed up with his current lot as an adolescent, that he leaves both school and parents, and embarks on an adventure into the unknown. To support himself, Antoine steals from someone (somewhat) dear to him and continues with his crusade of aimless wandering.
In no time at all, Antoine finds himself moving from the streets of his short-lived quest to living with hardened criminals in a prison.
Does Antoine reform and see the light of 1950s middle-class society? Or does he continue spiraling downward until something worse happens to him?
Please join us for François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows on Wednesday, January 22 at 8pm, Artspace (378 Aylmer Street, between Hunter St. and Simcoe St.). As always, the screening is free for students and community.