Let us just cut to the chase, shall we? It is incredibly hard to write about the 400 Blows. It has been analyzed in terms of importance, setting, character study, autobiography, psychology, and a myriad of other things to death. I have been staring at this blinking dash on the WordPress interface trying to come up with something interesting and exciting to say, but quite frankly I cannot. Who doesn’t know how incredibly important this film is? Who doesn’t know the myriad of ways this film has shaped every film that has come after it? If you take a famous filmmaker from today and track his influences, one of them is going to be Truffaut and the film that touched them is going to be The 400 Blows. It is just a point of fact that is hard to escape when watching this film, researching this film, or even coming up with something witty and refreshing to say. It is great. It is magnificent. If you have not watched it, then what is wrong with you?
Just as long as you are aware nothing new about your knowledge about this film will come from this post, we will press on. The beginning sequence is what seals the experience of watching this film for me. Obviously shot from inside of a car, there are multiple cuts and shots of the imposing figure that is the Eiffel Tower. The most iconic object in Paris, you are enforced with the imposing magnitude of the figure upon first sight. The sense of awe and respect the camera obviously has informs the rest of the film for me. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt like this if I had watched this film in the late fifties when it first came out, but this film is a fantasy for me. It is enveloped in a beautiful sense of grittiness that will never be found today. Even the characters seem to have the grit on them from the outside. Antoine’s mom for instance is not a very “clean” person. She doesn’t give her son once ounce of affection until he has something on her, she fixes and prims herself in the mirror but does not spring for new sheets for her son, and no matter how far her son goes in order to cry for help, she resists the call. It is sad, but at the same time it gives the son something to rebel against. Every person has a motive, has a past. Antoine has one. The mother has one. Even Antoine’s best friend has a past which makes him in a similar but not the same situation that he is in.
When I watch this film, I want to be able to reach into the screen and grab this young man out of the crappy situation he is in. And yet, not knowing exactly where it is going, I do know that this lack of love in the household, constant trouble with the law, class cutting and abandonment by his fellow classmates are things that will inform his experiences in the past. It might make him as prolific and a genius as so many other troubled youths have become. Or it might suck him into the abyss that is poverty. It is a coin toss that I am glad that Truffaut decides to commit to later on in his features. This is not the last time we will see the fragile, beautiful young man who is Antoine. In fact my next entry in the French New Wave might involve him also….