The 400 Blows (1959) presents the then France as it was. The troubled life of Antoine is saddening yet witty and his troubles glorify the grandeur of French Cinema. An important movie of the French new wave.
Seeing the Paris of 50s’ is like watching a Cabaret with a glass of Chardonnay in one hand and Romeo y Juliet on the other. The black and white texture gives a stark contrast between the backdrop and the characters (The backdrop blends in with the scene and never once overshadows the forefront characters). The plots are simpler and the story is the simplest of them all. Can it be called a worthy contemporary of the Neo-realism? Well, Yes!
The 400 Blows explores the underlying ideas of post-war french society and its effects on the younger generation. Set in the 2nd half of 20th century, the time of greater inventions and sociopolitical improvements, the modus operandi is a clash between new and older France. Antoine Doinel (Jean–Pierre Léaud), the protagonist, carries the sole tiresome weight of the new wave cinema over his tiny shoulders throughout the movie. He, a figure of hope for every teenagers who have been struggling with their emotional tragedies and identity crisis, gives life to the troubled character of Antoine, a troublemaker.
François Truffaut’s (Director) approach has been to show the world his own younger life through a cinematic kaleidoscope. The movie may seem like the reflection of today’s world, because it’s about the everyday story of us. Other than the emotions and tragedy, he succeeded in adding some wit to the script, which could have been much more sadder than it’s generally seen.
To add further, The 400 Blows also belongs to an Escapist genre. The French New Wave it is, but it also carries the qualities of Escapist cinema. The protagonist and the very motive of the movie establish a point of escaping the brutal past, be it a personal troubled life or the scar left by the war. The then society is the very villain of the movie, and Antoine solely survives its wrath.
Analyzing Post-WW II France
Post-WW II France, a nation formerly occupied and controlled by the Axis power, was built on an idea of escaping it’s horrendous past. To assimilate with the western nations, France introduced teaching English in their schools. Proper etiquette, better education and brighter future were as important the social issues back in France as they are now everywhere. The treatment of naivety was harsher with greater repercussions; nevertheless, the government believed that was the right way to improve its already ill-manifested denizens.
The inhumane approach of treating the culprit was well observed in the then France. Children for their delinquency were reprimanded and isolated. [In one scene of the movie, 3 girls, possibly younger than 10, are seen caged inside the detention center. Those young kids left alone by their parents for their just misdeed are treated with such rebuke that even the current treatments of the correctional facilities around the world may seem childish.]
French new wave took an initiative of showing everything that was wrong with France and its modus oprandi. It’s idealism were mere doctrines which badly needed to be updated. [There’s no way but to escape the horrendous brutality of the system, and escape is what the protagonist does. He escapes his tragic familial confinement, then he escapes from the juvenile detention home.]
The 400 Blows “Les Quatre cent coups” (1959)
Directed by François Truffaut, Written by F. Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, Produced by F. Truffaut and Georges Charlot, Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, Calire Maurier and others
Distributed by Cocinor