The 400 Blows

The coming-of-age film, perfected

By Bradley Lane

Increasingly in the age of streaming, the services providing films and television to consumers are shifting their focus from obtaining pre-existing content to developing wholly original works. This is not inherently a bad thing; in fact it gave way to a few of the best films of last year; The Irishman, Marriage Story and El Camino, just to mention a few. However, as a result, classic films, specifically those released before 1980, have been disappearing from services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. This is why it is so refreshing that HBO’s new streaming service, HBO Max, has partnered with Turner Classic Movies to provide what is unequivocally the best selection of classic movies on a major streaming platform currently available. And what better way to celebrate that, than to pay tribute to not only one of my favorites but to a hugely influential film, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows.

Truffaut’s debut feature film after transitioning from a hot-headed and opinionated film critic to a director won him 1959’s Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or prize. The same Cannes Film Festival which had banned Truffaut a year earlier for decrying the festival as out of touch with modern cinema. The 400 Blows follows a stand in for Truffaut himself in the form of the neglected juvenile delinquent, Antoine Doinel, as he navigates the cold city streets of Paris, just as Truffaut did as a youth. Antoine’s tale is told through a series of vignettes that interconnect very carefully while our protagonist must come to terms with a world that doesn’t hate his existence so much that it is wholly indifferent to it.

As a critic, Truffaut was incredibly harsh on the tradition of quality films France was known for at the time and found much more value in genre pictures and B-movies coming out of the U.S. Undeniably, The 400 Blows intended no less than to entirely redefine the identity of French cinema. Truffaut’s idea of the director as author manifested itself not only in the film’s intensely personal subject matter, but in the technical aspects that made up the film. The 400 Blows made use of match cuts, freeze frames, long takes and jump cuts so innovatively that it almost doesn’t even register as incredibly unique today because of just how apparent its influence is felt in modern cinema.

That is not to say The 400 Blows is just a technical marvel; rather it uses these techniques to enhance the emotions of the story. Antoine acts out because of and despite negligent parents, overly aggressive instructors and apathetic law enforcement. These acts are all informed by a longing desire to get the love and attention required during adolescence to shape an identity and become a well-adjusted adult. It paints an honest depiction of adolescence that is as fun as it is awkward and as liberating as it is downright imprisoning. It is a confusing period in life and the film’s frenetic visual style reflects the confusion of its main subject beautifully. Countless directors have attempted to draw meaning from transitory periods in young adulthood, but none are as successful as the first film from French New Wave pioneer François Truffaut. The 400 Blows and many other classic films well worth your time are currently streaming on HBO Max. – 5/5 stars