Entangled Step by Step

“I am amazed to see how deliberately I have entangled myself step by step. To have seen my position so clearly, and yet to have acted so like a child!”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Sorrows of Young Werther

 
 

Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier and Albert Rémy on the set of The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, 1959)

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To Raise Hell

 

Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) is a 1959 French drama film, the debut by director François Truffaut; it stars Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, and Claire Maurier. One of the defining films of the French New Wave, it displays many of the characteristic traits of the movement. Written by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, the film is about Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood adolescent in Paris who is thought by his parents and teachers to be a troublemaker. Filmed on location in Paris and Honfleur, it is the first in a series of five films in which Léaud plays the semi-autobiographical character.

Besides being a character study, the film is an exposé of the injustices of the treatment of juvenile offenders in France at the time.

Truffaut made four other films with Léaud depicting Antoine at later stages of his life. He meets his first love, Colette, in Antoine and Colette, which was Truffaut’s contribution to the 1962 anthology Love at Twenty. He falls in love with Christine Darbon (Claude Jade) in Stolen Kisses. He marries Christine in Bed and Board, but the couple have separated in Love on the Run.

 

 

The semi-autobiographical film reflects events of Truffaut’s and his friends’ lives. In style, it expresses Truffaut’s personal history of French film, with references to other works—most notably a scene borrowed wholesale from Jean Vigo‘s Zéro de conduite. Truffaut dedicated the film to the man who became his spiritual father, André Bazin, who died just as the film was about to be shot.

Filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel, Satyajit Ray, Jean Cocteau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Richard Lester and Norman Jewison have cited The 400 Blows as one of their favorite movies. Kurosawa called it “one of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen”.

The English title is a straight translation of the French but misses its meaning, as the French title refers to the idiom “faire les quatre cents coups”, which means “to raise hell”. And that’s precisely what the main character does. On the first prints in the United States, subtitler and dubber Noelle Gilmore gave the film the title Wild Oats, but the distributor did not like that and reverted it to The 400 Blows. Before seeing it, some people thought the film covered the topic of corporal punishment.