The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups) – Review

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If you are a film lover, you have a list of shame.

It’s true, because you can’t spend all your time watching movies, you are going to miss some just by consequence.

Mine is rather startling. Some would say odd, because it’s filled with movies everyone has seen and are surprised that a film lover would skip over these films. Here’s a quick list:

  • Jaws
  • All of the Rocky films
  • All of the Back to the Future films
  • E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
  • Requiem for a Dream
  • Rosemary’s Baby
  • City of God
  • It’s a Wonderful Life!
  • Leon: The Professional
  • All of the Alien movies
  • Tyler Perry’s entire filmography

I’m just kidding on that last one.

Whereas that would be “The List,” I also have my secret list of must-see films because they are considered important to a more artistic bent.

And honestly, I’ve been scratching that list off more than the previously mentioned.

The 400 Blows is one of those films.

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Considered to be one of the most important films that also ushered in the French New Wave cinema of the late 50’s, the film is about Antoine, played by Jean-Pierre Leaud, a 12 year old kid who, due to neglect at home and oppression from school teachers, turns to petty crime.

Right away, the film has an emotional heft to it. This is mainly due to Leaud’s excellent performance as Antoine, who is given a realistic, silently tortured feel that follows the film in its entirety.

The actor, 13 at the time of filming, carries the film with childish wonder and adult scorn: a particularly tough middle ground for an actor on his second film.

Yet, he infuses the character of Antoine with just enough pathos, personality, warmth and sadness to relate to him. It’s hard not to watch the performance of this young actor and be reminded of your own childhood past and what could have been your life if you were left with his decisions.

Few actors can take what would seemingly be a rather mundane and typical role, give it a character all of its own and carry a full film with no support to lean on. To have this come from a 13 year old is simply bewildering and is one of the best performances ever seen on film.

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The 400 Blows has a very delicate line to teeter back and forth from. There are multiple ways to interpret the movie due to this: a story of adolescence in neglect, the fruits of rebellion, the importance of structure, the failure of adults. And yet, the film does so in such a succinct and simple manner that it feels effortless to watch.

The film is one of the only movies that can be watched on multiple points of views, analyzed differently by each and they would all have valid messages to take from it. There’s a main message, sure, but the film is open just enough and thoughtful in its execution that it allows, and encourages, multiple outlooks and viewings.

Also, the film works incredibly well in introspection after the film ends. Well after the film is over, thoughts of specific scenes, particular uses of camera work, tonal shifts, uses of dialogue still linger as the weight of the film lays heavy.

So many films, even great ones, erode as you think hard about what you’ve watched. Based solely on a critical eye, looking at most films often leads to some question of why certain decisions are made.

Sometimes, as times passes, the quality of a film lessens as well, due to other films using themes similar to it expand on them and improve those qualities, thereby giving the previous film a sort of decay.

Yet, it’s hard to think of a contemporary of this film. Or, simply, it’s difficult to think of another film that could have tackled this better. It just feels ageless.

If there is one thing that can be questioned, and this is probably due to the time it was made, it’s the score of the film. The depressing, somber tone of the film is accompanied with what feels like a fanciful, light score.

It’s nowhere near a deal breaker, but it feels odd to see Antoine get into a precarious situation and what feels like old Hollywood romantic scores drone on in the background.

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However, it can’t stop what has been said countless times before about this movie. If you’re a film lover and you consider yourself someone who loves to watch any film, no matter how old and where it’s from, The 400 Blows is something you already should have seen by now.

I corrected my mistake and was shown an incredibly heartbreaking yet mesmerizing film. You should as well.

The Wiz Says #68

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