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Film / The 400 Blows

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The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) is a 1959 film directed by François Truffaut.

Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a 12-year-old boy living in Paris. His life is not a happy one. The family is poor. His parents constantly fight; his mother is having an affair. Their attitudes towards their son range from neglect to indifference to scolding. At school, Antoine is always getting into trouble, which leads him to rebel against his strict teachers, which leads to him getting into more trouble.

Antoine's best friend Rene encourages him to skip school. They play hooky for a day, which only gets Antoine into more trouble when he tells the school that his mother died, but gets caught in the lie. Finally his mother cuts him a break, acting nicer to him and promising him 1000 francs if he does well on an essay he has to write for class—but that only leads to further disaster.


The 400 Blows is commonly regarded as a landmark of the French New Wave. The huge success of the film established Truffaut as one of the leaders of French cinema. It was followed by four more films recounting the life of Antoine Doinel over the next 20 years, all starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, collectively referred to as "The Adventures of Antoine Doinel". The other films in the series are considerably Lighter and Softer.



  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Particularly cruel version: Once Antoine's parents learn that he's been skipping school, they decide to punish him in the most humiliating way imaginable to a preteen boy—by going down to school, storming into his classroom, slapping him in front of all his classmates, and letting him (and everyone else in the room) know, in no uncertain terms, that there's more to come once he gets home. They then leave him to stew in terror and suspense for the rest of the school day.
  • Author Avatar: Little Antoine's story was based off Truffaut's childhood experiences. Further films in the series are fictional.
  • Bittersweet Ending: By the end, sweet-natured Antoine is considered a worthless delinquent. His own mother washes her hands of him and requests that after a stint in juvenile detention he be sent to a work camp by the shore where she doesn't have to deal with him anymore. But at least he gets to see the ocean - in one of French cinema's most famous and beautiful scenes.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: The French title, Les Quatre Cents Coups is a reference to a French idiom, "faire les quatre cents coups", which means "to raise hell". The English title is a completely literal translation, which is nonsensical in context. The original translator tried to give the film the more appropriate name Wild Oats, but the distributor changed it back.
  • Buxom Is Better: Discussed in a sarcastic manner by Antoine's stepfather, who says a secretary at his office got promoted through sleeping with the boss. He pronounces her "well-armed" then says "She has the talents for the position" while making the universal 'big breasts' gesture.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Antoine. If he breaks any rule or makes any mischief, he will get punished and suffer Disproportionate Retribution.
  • The Cameo: Truffaut put a lot of people he knew in the movie. Jacques Demy is a cop, Phillipe de Broca is at the fair, and the voices of both Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Paul Belmondo can be heard. Jeanne Moreau is the lady with a dog.
  • Creator Cameo: Francois Truffaut can be seen at the fair when Antoine and Rene are playing hooky. He's riding next to Antoine in the centrifuge.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Much of what happens to Antoine. He's a good-hearted, intelligent, sensitive young man, but prone to mischief and hasn't quite figured out the status quo. But the Disproportionate Retribution escalates until by the end of the film, everyone in his life has written him off as an incurable delinquent. The worst things he does in the movie are cheat on an essay and steal a typewriter. For this he's sent to prison and disowned by his parents.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Guess what's in the very first shot? In fact the entire opening credits sequence is a montage of shots of the Tower as filmed from various moving cars.
  • Freeze-Frame Ending: One of if not the most famous example of the trope. As young Antoine finally reaches the coast from his perpetual series of bad luck and federal injustice. He's still being chased, and has nowhere to go beyond the coast, but is enjoying the beach and an innocent sense of freedom, causing him to smile back towards the land and, consequently, into the camera. The camera then freezes and zooms on his face.
  • Gratuitous English: One of Truffaut's favorite tropes, here used for a joke with the English teacher at Antoine's school.
    Teacher: (in English) Where is the girl?
    Abbou: The girl has bit.
    Teacher: No, bitch.
    Abbou: Bitch.
    Teacher: (emphasizing): Beeeeetch.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used exactly once and to great effect. The famous Freeze-Frame Ending is paired with a zoom in to Antoine's face, quickly going from middle distace (when the image freezes) to tight closeup.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Justified. Poor as he was, Antoine wears the same checkered jacket throughout.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Antoine's mother admits that her husband is not Antoine's father.
  • No Ending: Ends with Antoine looking exhausted in a Freeze Frame in the middle of an unresolved chase scene.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: Antoine makes the foolish decision to plagiarize Balzac for his literature essay. This gets him into a lot of trouble.
  • Poor Man's Porn: The boys in Antoine's class pass around a calendar with a drawing of a sexy woman in lingerie. Naturally, Antoine is the one that the teacher catches. Later, he filches a cheesecake picture of some actress posted outside a movie theater.
  • The Runaway: Antoine attempts this a number of times, first spending a night at a factory to escape punishment for lying about his mother dying. Later he spends several days hiding out at his friend's house.
  • Sadist Teacher: "Sourpuss", the literature teacher at Antoine's school. To be fair, Antoine brings troubles on himself, by doing stuff like scribbling on the walls and plagiarizing an essay. But Sourpuss is still a nasty piece of work who takes delight in publicly humiliating Antoine. When Antoine's friend sticks up for him Sourpuss grabs the friend by the neck and physically yanks him out of the classroom, throwing his papers after him.
  • Sexy Figure Gesture: The "large bosom" version, used by Antoine's stepfather to describe the secretary in his office. See Buxom Is Better, above.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Slice of Life: Simply the story of a troubled but good-hearted young boy.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Antoine's mother is having an affair, and while playing hooky he catches her with the other man.

Alternative Title(s): The Four Hundred Blows


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