LES QUATRE CENTS COUPS (The 400 Blows) directed by François Truffaut (France, 1959)
I don’t speak French, but I am reliably informed (by Wiki!) that the original title of this brilliant movie comes from an expression meaning ‘to raise hell’.
To call the 12-year-old Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) a hell raiser is a bit of an exaggeration. He is disruptive and difficult but he is a good-hearted kid whose transgressive behaviour shows a keen intelligence more than a malevolent spirit.
His rebellion against the soul-destroying school system and oppressive home environment seems a wholly justified quest for a non-institutionalised education that teaches him more than simply how to conform.
We see him playing truant, sneaking into cinemas and embarking on a non too successful career as a petty criminal.
Truffaut’s remarkably assured debut is loosely based on his own life and fulfilled his aim to show adolescence “as the painful experience that it is”.
The 400 Blows is rightly celebrated as one of the key films of the era with the distinct advantage of being less pretentious than the French new wave movies of Jean-Luc Godard.
It boasts a truly memorable closing sequence of the boy escaping from a detention center with a tracking shot of him running through the country until he reaches the beach. He stops running, turns towards the camera and the movie ends with a freeze frame that zooms in on his face.
Where to now?, he seems to be asking.