Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The 400 Blows (1959) - ★★★★½

Director: Francois Truffaut
Writers: Francois Truffaut, Marcel Moussey
Stars: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Remy, Patrick Auffay, Georges Flamant

The 400 Blows gives us a powerful look at a child's descent into crime, showing the reason's but never giving a clear answer why. It captures the essence of one of the most difficult periods in a person's life; the transition from boy to man. This is when most people start realizing the darker side of the world and get treated harsher than ever before. It's a frustrating film, yet one so beautiful I could barely take my eyes away from the screen. The realism, cinematography, music and performances make this film great... but it was the ending that convinced me it's a masterpiece.

The IMDB describes it as an, "Intensely touching story of a misunderstood young adolescent who left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime." The boy is Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), whose parents, teachers and indeed society don't know how to deal with him. An only child, he doesn't have anyone to truly talk to except his friend, Rene (Patrick Auffey). The problem is that Rene is also damaged from having bad parents, so the only thing these two boys have in common is that neither of them know what to do with themselves in a world that doesn't seem to be getting any easier.

I think what stings about this movie the most is that all of the chaos could have been avoided. The parents could have gotten to know their son better. Even the teachers could have been more understanding and reasonable. I wonder how different things would have turned out had Antoine been treated better. He's not a bad kid, he just lacks common sense and a good role model. Even when he tried his hardest, he was still belittled. While all of this was frustrating, it had me wrapped in the world of this struggling young boy.

Jean-Pierre Leaud gave an amazing performance. His acting was half of the reason why this movie blew me away. He puts on a tough front, but when he is by himself you can see the sensitivity and longing that is hidden within. That look Antoine gave when he was locked in a cell really touched my heart. Claire Maurier played his mother, who was a self-centered and somewhat uncaring person. She really blew me away too.

Francois Truffaut painted a beautiful picture of Paris, from the stunning shots of The Eiffel Tower to the humble, simple streets within. There was an amazing scene where this Gym instructor took his class out on the street for a jogging session. The kids would run away and disappear bit by bit while the instructor's back was turned, until there were only a couple of students left. Not only did I find this hilarious, but it was also one of the most stunning scenes I've ever seen!

It was the ending that really won me over. We see Antoine running for quite some time, through fields, under bridges and eventually on the beach. When he reaches the edge of the shore, he turns around and has an almost incomprehensible expression on his face. Now this is open to interpretation, but I felt that he'd suddenly realized "What the hell am I going to do now?" To me, it was a look of panic and uncertainty. This is pretty much how we're left to feel.

I loved The 400 Blows. We all know a troubled kid that we think is probably no good. Well this tells the story of that kid, and all of the other troubled children out there. We see what the parents see, and what the teachers see, but most importantly, we're seeing what Antoine sees. It sheds light on the confusion and conflict within the boy's mind, whilst always maintaining the distance of never telling us what he's thinking.

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