The 400 Blows (1959) – An Extraordinary Motion Picture

Watching François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” is like seeing a reflection in a mirror rather than directly seeing myself into the real mirror, regardless of I hated mirrors. It reminds me of the times when I often lied, honest, happy, laughing, and why I often run away from problems. It reminds me why I prefer crying when there is a problem rather than having to look for a resolution. This movie is so personal to me and so rich in terms of aspects, cinema, and influence, especially the French New Wave cinema. Inspired by Truffaut’s early life, this movie tells the story of a person and experience into an innocent yet hell’s world of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud).

This movie presents the bound and slice of life in Paris, France. It gives us a space of privacy in reflecting, remembering, and reflecting ourselves into the past as well as the future. In this movie, the same as real life, adults are scumbags. They are carriers of problems but they don’t realize what makes a kid lie and always messed up. We see Antoine trying and promising not to lie anymore, trying to get high marks in his essay at school, and playing around here.

At the end of the movie after all of Antoine just pass, there is a moment of realization. The four or five minutes sequence that only shows Antoine running and running has a deeper meaning. He ran to chase what he wanted to see, imagine what his future was like, and remember what he had been through. He is in a series of dilemmas between the past, present, and future. In a melancholy feeling, he is feeling whether this was all wrong or right. Just like being caught at the end of the beach between land and water. What do you choose?

This is my first time watching the work of François Truffaut. So, making a comparative in this circumstance is rather difficult. But, I can say if “The 400 Blows” is one of the best movies from the director. This movie is great because of its simplicity and personal feeling. This is the first feature film also by the director. In addition to Jean-Luc Godard, Truffaut is one of the figures that formed the French New Wave. They gave a close influence on the history of filmmaking. It’s a film dedicated to André Bazin, one of the most influential French film critics at the time.

Antoine begins his story in a school. A French teacher (Guy Decomble) always punishes him for not believing that the kid is the one who makes a mess; though not like that. I have a memory when I was a kid. At school, I did nothing. However, one group of kids tried to mock one of the teachers from behind. The teacher turned away and only saw me who sat and did nothing. He came and suddenly hit me as hard as possible. After that, I didn’t know I wanted to be angry, complain, or cry.

Antoine isn’t a bad kid. His parents and adults around him never give him the opportunity and freedom for the kid. Adults only see the kid’s mistakes, punish the kid, and think if the kid can realize his mistakes. With that simple thinking, the kid nature also changes little by little. He lied because he had to lie not for crime. He was only afraid of what had happened again if he was honest. However, when he was honest, adults think he was lying.

It’s simple actually. The kid tries to be good in the eyes of parents and adults but they never realize the slightest kindness and honesty of the kid. They will not pay attention to such a little thing. He has a lot of imagination. However, his parents keep him closed, always blaming the kid when they make a mistake. Like when his mother stole father’s money and blamed the theft to her kid because what the kid saw what the mother had done was cheating.

This movie explores a small memory through the innocent yet rebellious perspective of a kid. There are so many memorable moments in this film whether it’s charming, sad, fun, angry, and happy. Completely, this isn’t a movie about tragedy, grief, and else. There are many comical moments when Antoine and his parents go together to watch a movie at the cinema. They laughed when they returned home. There was a moment when their sports teacher and students exercising on the streets of Paris. The students, one by one, ran from behind until there was nothing left.

In each of our childhood memories, there is a variety of embarrassed, sad, and joyful moments as well. It’s kinds of like when I remember I have to fill my note that was just written on the whiteboard. If there are notes, I can play my NES again. However, if there isn’t, I’ll be punished. It’s simple. Our memory, as well as the main protagonist in this movie, is also a parallel of why this movie is rich, not just from its big influence. However, I must mention a fact too if Truffaut transforms his memories into moving images. Above all, the cinema saved his life too.

I could see that Truffaut, as well as Godard, had a passion and love for filmmaking. They both are cinephiles who don’t love cinema as cinema. But, they both see cinema as a part of history too. French New Wave, as well as New Wave in specific countries, divides a point between classic cinema, modern cinema, and arthouse cinema. However, it’s sad to see Truffaut died too young because of a brain tumor.

The handheld camera, the natural performance by Léaud, the score by Jean Constantin, everything in this movie are so rich. The rhythm and the subjectivity convey uniquely. And the final freeze-frame at the end of the shot, even though Truffaut doesn’t know how he wants to end the movie, was mind-blowing to me. This is a great slice of life movie with an immense emotional element and notes; it’s like looking directly into a mirror rather than looking at a real mirror.

5 out of 5 stars.

Salman Al Farisi

An Indonesian who loves to watch and read everything. A literary student who likes to write about reviews and essays on Crackdown Review. But, I just wannabe critics who love arthouse than anything.

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