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The 400 Blows

François Truffaut

On 15 May 1959, the announcement of the major prizes at Cannes heralded the start of a new era when The 400 Blows, the directorial debut of 27-year-old François Truffaut, carried off the award for Best Director.

“universally regarded as one of the all-time great coming-of-age movies”

One of the greatest films about childhood, Truffaut’s partly autobiographical first feature is also profoundly moving. Forever in trouble at school – when he’s not playing truant – 13-year-old Antoine Doinel finds life no easier at home; besides demanding he help with housework and shopping, his parents frequently bicker with one another. Eventually, there’s a tipping point... 

The film’s French title actually means ‘raising hell’, and Antoine’s rebellion against rigid social norms, breaking out from the confinement of stifling classrooms or his parents’ cramped flat, is exhilaratingly captured in Henri Decaë’s lyrical location shooting on the streets of Paris.  Eliciting a memorably affecting and naturalistic performance from the young Jean-Pierre Léaud and achieving a documentary-like authenticity by shooting in far-from-glamorous setting, Truffaut leavens Antoine’s faltering progress through a painful pubescence with moments of irreverent humour and exhilarating energy. Never sentimental, it’s nonetheless a heartbreakingly plausible portrait of adolescent individuality under threat from adult conformism.

Fifty years on, the film that launched the French New Wave is universally regarded as one of the all-time great coming-of-age movies.

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