Tuesday 27 September 2016

The 400 Blows (Le Quatre Cent Coups) (1959)

Ung flugt
A quick skimming of the Book would make you realize that the sixties were if not dominated then at least heavily influenced by French film. I understand that this is the new French wave or Nouvelle Vague. Frankly I am not certain what the concept covers, I was never much into French movies of the sixties, but as today’s movie, “Les Quatre Cent Coups (The 400 Blows)” is touted as the opening of the genre I must assume that it will be something like this.

I cannot say that I am super excited.

It is not that “Les Quatre Cent Coups” is a bad movie, it is not, not at all actually, but Mon Dieu this is a depressing movie! Ten-fifteen more of these movies and I will be ready to kill myself.

Apparently Francois Truffaut had a tough childhood. Certainly he felt enough bitterness about it that he decided to make a movie about it. As I understand it he has not made it a secret that the movie is to a large extent auto-biographical, although combined with the story of a few other people he knew. During this childhood of Truffaut’s, in the movie acted out by young Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, everybody were against him, his parents, his teachers, the social institutions and so he had to rebel and run away. If you think about it it is actually rather peevish.

Fortunately for the movie it is played out in a realistic tone. We believe that Antoine’s mother would rather be without him and considers him an annoying block on her feet and that his father has very little patience with him. Looking at the school and the teachers we also understand and believe that this is a very hostile environment bent on making the lives miserable for the students. That does make the movie feel less self-indulgent and makes us ready to sympathize with Antoine.

Antoine is a good child, and mind you, that is what he is, only a child. He is trying to fit in, at home, at school and with his friends, but both home and school are hostile environments who cares little about how he feels and what he thinks. Only his friends is his refuge. Children should not be raised by other children and when school and home are abandoned there is only so much friends can provide. Antoine lives on the street, steals and sleep like a homeless whereever he can get shelter.

Of course this is unacceptable, but instead of looking into the reasons why this is so everybody seem bent on blaming Antoine and forcing him to conform.

Through all this Antoine is almost sleepwalking. He is a witness to all that happens around him and to him but there are only few things he actually does and that is mainly to avoid and escape, which he does repeatedly.

I have a hard time watching people wallow in misery, especially when they are children. A movie that is all about that is very hard to get through. There are very few good things that happen to him and those that do happen are double edged and come back to bite him. Even the resolution is bittersweet: Escape, but what then? What is he going to do?

If this is how the next decade in movies will form I need a deep breath. This will be challenging.

On the positive side I would have to commend the movie on the realism of all this decay. I do not think I have ever seen such a depressing side to Paris. This is very very far away from “An American in Paris”. I bet there are and were a lot of teenagers who got their dream of romantic Paris shattered here.

My favorite actor/actress here must be Claire Maurier as Gilberte Doinel, Antoine’s mother. She is the devil. Her expression of pure malice when she tells Antoine that they do not want him home is brilliant. She easily qualifies to my top ten of most horrific villains in movie history.

I am so happy I can return to some American escapism with my next movies.


  1. I haven't seen this in awhile but what has lasted in my memory is the humor and the beautiful cinematography. It's been awhile so I'll have to see what my reaction is this time.

    1. It is not exactly the humor I will remember this movie for. The only humorous elements were the pranks the boys were playing and they usually hit them right back in their faces, so not that funny.

  2. It is definitely not a "feel-good" movie, and while I appreciate films like these for their quality, I've had enough commentary on the French juvenile system for a lifetime ;)

    1. Yeah, I know what you mean, there are a few of those. The French did not seem to like their children back then.