‘Oh, I lie now and then, I suppose...’
François Truffaut is a giant of French cinema. He’s not giant enough for me to have seen any of his films mind. I have seen Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan no fewer than three times, but I’ve never got round to any of Truffaut’s masterworks. As The 400 Blows currently sits snugly at number #237 on the IMDB Top 250 list, I was always bound to get round to it eventually. And I’m glad that I did…
Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a young lad who is just trying to live his life. Unfortunately, his chosen lifestyle of claiming that his mother has died to avoid punishment at school, stealing a typewriter and smoking cigarettes seems to clash with the lifestyle choices of the adults in his life. The threat of a juvenile detention centre looms large.
Truffaut’s cinematic yet authentic filming style has clearly been a huge influence on the British kitchen sink dramas of the ’60s and ’70s as well as pretty much all of French cinema since 1959 (when this film is released). To say that The 400 Blows was before its time would be an understatement – when compared with what was happening in Hollywood at the same time it is clear that Truffaut was miles ahead. These characters are lived in. Their world feels real. The script is warm and genuine and shot through with dark humour. Sure, it’s light on plot, but to a teenage boy, everything is a high drama and Truffaut managers to demonstrate that through the use of inventive cinematography and a smart script (written with Michael Mousey).
The 400 Blows is not a bombastic film, but it is an influential one, and for that reason it deserves all the plaudits awarded to it.