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The place is 1950’s Paris, France and the protagonist Antoine is a boy who has difficulty at school and at home. His teacher is seemingly unfair and harsh, while his mother is cold and demanding. After skipping school with his friend Rene, and lying about it, he runs away and begins a downward spiral.

Imagine your parents find you inconvenient and tiresome and your teachers seem to find everything you do is wrong. How would this make you feel? How would you treat school? Who would you turn to? How would it effect you as a person? 


400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups)

Directed by François Truffaut

Country: France

Year: 1959

Length: 99 minutes


Cast:

Jean-Pierre Léaud ............ Antoine Doinel

Claire Maurier ...................Gilberte Doinel (Mother)

Albert Rémy .......................Julien Doinel (Father)

Guy Decomble ...................'Petite Feuille' (French teacher)

Georges Flamant .............. Mr. Bigey

Patrick Auffay .................... René

  • French New Wave
  • Camera-stylo (Camera as pen)
  • Auteur Theory
  • Long take
  • Mise-en-scene
  • Dubbing
  • Whip Pan
  • POV Shot

Long Take: A shot that continues for an unusually lengthy time before the transition to the next shot.

During the 1950’s in France a Film Theorist, Andre Bazin, suggested that the camera should try to show everything in the shot for as long as possible and let the viewer decide the meaning of the scene or film. He believed too many editing choices manipulated reality and the film became untrue to life.

Montage: A quick series of shots cut together to create a relationship between all of the shots.

In the 1920’s a Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein, began to write about and use montage in his films. He believed that by putting different shots together could create a new and more important meaning that the individual shots could not produce on their own. This style of editing went on to become the norm for studio films in the 30’s and 40’s.

Mise-en-scene: All the visual elements that are placed in a scene for the camera; this involves the set, set decoration, props, costumes, lighting. Mise-En-Scene means "putting in the scene"

Whip Pan: A camera movement that swiftly pivots horizontally side to side, creating a blurring effect

Dubbing: a post-production process in which additional or supplementary recordings are "mixed" with original production sound to create the finished soundtrack.

POINT OF VIEW SHOT (POV Shot): A shot taken with the camera placed approximately where the character’s eyes would be, illustrating how the scene looks from the character's perspective.


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During the late 1950’s and early 60’s in France a new style of film-making emerged, influenced by Italian neo-realism, and fueled by young filmmakers.

These young critics were dissatisfied with the mainstream films, in particular French mainstream films, as they observed that the narratives were not expressing “human life, thought, and emotion in a genuine way” and totally out of touch with the lives of post-war French youth. http://www.newwavefilm.com/new-wave-cinema-guide/nouvelle-vague-where-to-start.shtml

The movement is characterized by emphasizing the Mise-se-scene of the film (long takes, deep focus and a rejection of montage editing), a feeling that the director is the creative author or Auteur of the film and low-cost production techniques (portable equipment that required little or no set-up, filming on location, handheld camera, natural light, black and white footage, non-professional actors and dubbing in sound). Characters in their films were often young loners and seen as anti-authoritarian and rebellious, searching for free will. These production techniques lend themselves to narrative full of questions that go unanswered.

Who were they?

Many of the French New Wave directors were former film critics and theorist that wanted to take their ideas about cinema and life and put them into their own films. They knew a lot about film theory and history but not a lot about film production. This allowed them to experiment and try new ways to make films. They also began to break traditional rules in film-making. At first audiences were confused, but now many of the innovative conventions of the French New Wave are normal cinematic devices that we all understand today, like the jump-cut, long take, voice over and handheld location shooting.

Stories:

The French New Wave filmmakers told personal stories of the individual and free will. They filmed using inventive camera movements on low budgets on location using natural light and broke from traditional editing techniques preferring long takes and jump cuts and trusted the viewer to be able to follow. Most importantly, they believed in celebrating the mise-en-scene of the film and the director as the Auteur.

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"The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of the camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure."

"I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between."

• Francois Truffaut had a very similar life as the character, Antoine, in 400 Blows as a child who lived with his mother after his grandmother died, was moving from family member to family member, didn’t know his real father, and dabbled in petty crime as a kid.

• In 1948, Truffaut met and became close with film critic Andrew Bazin, who helped him out of various financial and criminal situations. For example in 1950, helping Truffaut to be released by the army and setting him up with a job at his film magazine.

• Truffuat became known as a notorious film critic for his brutal and unforgiving reviews and was the only one not invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 1958.

• Truffaut supported Andre Bazin in the development of one of the most influential theories of cinema itself, the auteur theory.

• Alexandre Astruc. In 1948 he wrote an article titled “Birth of a New Avant-Garde: The Camera as Pen”, in which he argued for cinema, like literature, to become a more personal form, in which the camera literally became a pen in the hands of a director. The article would become something of a manifesto for the New Wave generation and a first step in the development of “auteur theory”.

• In 1954, Truffaut wrote an article called "Une Certaine Tendance du Cinéma Français" ("A Certain Trend of French Cinema"),[4] in which he attacked the current state of French films, lambasting certain screenwriters and producers. The article resulted in a storm of controversy. Truffaut later devised the auteur theory, which stated that the director was the "author" of his work; that great directors such as Renoir or Hitchcock have distinct styles and themes that permeate all of their films. Although his theory was not widely accepted then, it gained some support in the 1960s from American criticAndrew Sarris. In 1967, Truffaut published his book-length interview of Hitchcock, Hitchcock/Truffaut (New York: Simon and Schuster).

• After having been a critic, Truffaut decided to make films of his own. He started out with the short film Une Visite in 1955 and followed that up with Les Mistons in 1957. After seeing Orson Welles' Touch of Evil at the Expo 58, he was inspired to make his feature film debut in 1959 with Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows).

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Title

The English title is a straight translation of the French but misses its meaning, as the French title refers to the expression "faire les quatre cents coups", which means "to raise hell". On the first American prints, subtitler and dubber Noelle Gilmore gave the film the title Wild Oats, but the distributor did not like that title and reverted it to The 400 Blows, which led some to think the film covered the topic of corporal punishment.

Story:

Truffaut's 400 Blows is semi-autobiographical in so many ways. The director was raised by his grandmother and when she died, came to live with his mother at age eight. He never knew his father and was adopted by his mother's husband. Like Antoine, Truffaut ran away from home after he told a lie at school and became involved in small robberies. His step father turned him in to the police and later ended up in a reform school.

Themes

  • A semi-autobiographical film, reflecting events of Truffaut's and his friend's lives, its style amounts to Truffaut's personal history of French film—most notably a scene borrowed wholesale from Jean Vigo's Zéro de conduite. It is dedicated to the man who became his spiritual father, André Bazin, who died just as the film was about to be shot.
  • Besides being a character study, the film is an exposé of the injustices of the treatment of juvenile offenders in France at the time.
  • The lack of father figures and not knowing biological fathers is also a strong theme in the film.

Casting:

Out of sixty boys who responded to an ad, the director chose the 14-year-old Léaud because “he deeply wanted that role . . . an anti-social loner on the brink of rebellion.” He encouraged the boy to use his own words rather than sticking to the script. The result fulfilled Truffaut’s avowed aim, “not to depict adolescence from the usual viewpoint of sentimental nostalgia, but . . . to show it as the painful experience that it is.”

Acting:

Truffaut encouraged Jean-Piere Leaud to improvise in the film. For example, the psychiatric review that Antoine undergoes is the most naturalistic and fresh sequence of the film. Truffaut posed the questions directly to Léaud and invited him to improvise, in character, before dubbing in the female voice we hear afterwards.

Legacy

Truffaut made four other films with Léaud depicting Antoine at later stages of his life. He meets his first love, Colette, in Antoine and Colette, which was Truffaut's contribution to the 1962 anthology Love at Twenty. He falls in love with Christine Darbon (Claude Jade) in Stolen Kisses. He marries Christine in Bed and Board, but the couple have separated in Love on the Run.

Filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel, Satyajit Ray, Jean Cocteau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Richard Lester and Norman Jewison have cited The 400 Blows as one of their favorite movies.[10][11] Kurosawa called it "one of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen".[12]

The film was ranked #29 in Empire magazine's list of "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010


Behind the Scenes: http://sensesofcinema.com/2014/2014-melbourne-international-film-festival-dossier/children-of-the-revolution-truffaut-and-les-quatre-cents-coups/

    -“Sloppiness, arrogance, permanent defiance, indiscipline in all its forms” (3), the head teacher wrote, in a vain effort to dissuade Truffaut from giving him the job. In a word, the young Léaud was perfect casting.

    -As Truffaut wrote in 1962: “I have always loved my father and my mother; I have not always loved my parents”. 

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What is the significant of this scene?

Truffaut chooses to make his cameo appearance in this scene, entering the carousel behind Antoine – together both men are caught in its powerful grip. Why this in particular?

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What film techniques are being utilized here? What is the mood? Why?

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This was an improvised scene with the director Truffaut. What kind of effect does the improvisation have? If it was scripted out before hand, would it have a different feeling?

Sketch out or write a moment that really stood out to you in the film and have people guess what it is. Explain why the scene stood out to you.

  • What was your favorite scene in the film? Why?
  • Whose point of view is this film shot from? How do you know?
  • Explain how the opening sequence of the film relates to the theme of restriction?
  • How does the director tell us right away this film is not a studio film? In other words, how does it embody “French New Wave”?
  • In what ways do we identify with Antoine?
  • What is the relationship like between Antoine and his mother? How do we know?
  • There is a scene in which Antoine is looking into a mirror and we see his reflection multiple times. What is the director trying to tell us?
  • All of the sound and dialogue was dubbed in this film. Why do you think the director choose this way to record sound?
  • Why did the director use the question “Where is the Father?” in the English Lesson
  • Name some ways we know Antoine is going through “Juvenile Identity Crisis”?
  • Describe some long shots in the film. Why do you think the director decided not to edit the scenes?
  • What do you think about the last shot in the film? What is the symbolic meaning? Give evidence.

If you liked this film, you might also enjoy:

Day for Night, Antoine and Collette, Fahrenheit 451, The Bicycle Thieves, Touch of Evil

The French film, "400 Blows" should have REALLY kept its 'rough' translated name of :"To raise hell", because that makes so much more sense. The title 400 blows might be thought of covering the topic of corporal punishment of the domestic variety, but this film is really about one bad kid's (Antoine) tumble into a life reminiscent of hell and his desperate attempts of ascending back into a life of 'heaven'. This film, simply embodies the French New Wave, in the way of its focus on a young adolescent loner, rejected from society, and its message of free will.

 The director, Francois Truffaut, sneaks in many themes of the story into seemingly random places, particularly in the setting of Antoine's school classroom. For example, the poem "The Hare" is a poem that focuses around a main motif of something like " the worst form of freedom is still better than a life of slavery". This directly correlates to the film's main message. Although, through Antoine's brash actions, he effectively raised hell and slavery not only within his home, but also in the form of a juvenile correctional/ delinquent facility; he tries at every on every whim to reach a life of freedom. 

In the film there is also a big running motif, his dad even said it at the beginning of the movie "you're always running from something," and indeed what his father said is true, he is always 'on the run'. Through every stage of the book, he's running away from school, he's running away from his problems, he's literally running away from the authorities in some places, he's always running somewhere. This represents another message the French New Wave has to offer, the theme of "running away"from the norm. It represents running away from what is accepted and what is considered 'right'. This is a case of a misguided youth, this is not a correct course of action per se, but it is to be blamed on the parental and leadership leaders during his youth years. So, in my opinion, the parents should be equally liable for his crimes. 

Overall, this movie is only held back by the fact that the acting is not totally spot on. Although this is a very organic and 'good' problem, the movie was limited by the actors included in it. But, overall this is an organic problem, directly correlating to the film's highly organic and original casting process. All in all, a very subjective movie, that can be observed in many different ways. You could say that what Antoine did was very natural for a young child, but you can also say that what he did was totally unwarranted and what punishment he received was just and called for. This is what is very interesting about this film, it is open to intepretation. My score: 7.5/10

by Michael T.
APR 15TH. 2015 5:54PM

Emily Ohara TEACHER

A well thought out film review! Your articulation on all points (title, themes, running sequences, who is to blame) are all valid. The connection to the Hare poem to Antoine's own life is spot on. Did you also notice what the question being raised in English class was? "Where is the father?" Another theme that runs throughout is the absent father, a fact revealed when Antoine's mother is speaking with the judge and lets slip that her husband is not Antoine's biological father. To answer your question on whether Antoine's behavior is justified and if one could call him a "good" person, I would argue that he is overall a "good" person. A person who is stuck with unloving parents and absolutely no support. Were there moments you could relate to him at all? Were there moments you felt the director showed great amount of sympathy for Antoine? To label his character as good or bad would mean not treating him as a complicated three dimensional character. He is complicated. That being said, a great amount of visual detail is shown where we, the viewer, can sympathize with him. We can feel his pain and frustration, loneliness and impossible escape from adolescence, as clearly seen in the running sequences you mentioned. Who is the "bad guy"? Who is to blame for Antoine? The adults, the teachers, judicial system. Keep up your film analysis, Michael. A truly great start to the session.

APR 16TH. 2015 2:34PM

The film 400 Blows is very unique film, and it still hold up to today's standards. Interesting, difficult, and very much real underlying tones set the mood for the movie and send an uncomfortable feeling to the viewer. From the opening long take that is well over a few minutes, people watching this movie know they are going to be in for a long, carefully crafted, and disturbing downwards spiral of a misunderstood delinquent. The movie, while illustrating some of the finest uses of the new ideas from the French New Movement, sometimes feels like a showcase of the new techniques. It feels as if they are just trying to show these pans and shots off. Even though this might be true, it pays off. The movie looks great. The pans are smooth, the directing done by François Truffaut is beautiful and grace and captures Paris like nothing else ever had. The way the story was carried along with real situations and an amazing performance by Jean-Pierre Léaud that really makes the movie stand out. Overall, the movie should be recognized as one of the best examples of the French New Wave and possibly one of the best movies ever in cinema. Although at times it feels like a show off, it is an amazing feat and an even greater experience. 9.5/10

by Jt Rosen
APR 21ST. 2015 4:18PM

Emily Ohara TEACHER

Wonderful observations on the camera techniques, JT. I would love to hear your take on how these camera techniques (long take, pans, POV shots, etc.) as well as the mise-en-scene contributed to the themes and character development in the film. What scene in particular stood out to you? How did the camera technique help emphasize the subtext of the scene? Great observations!

APR 23RD. 2015 10:21AM