The 400 Blows, by Francois Truffaut, is a movie that I wish I had watched two decades ago; as such, I am not sure that I have gotten as much out of the film that I could have. It is important that you consider that this is one of the most important films ever made and it has had a clear effect on writers and directors that have come after.
The 400 Blows is a coming-of-age story about Antoine Doinel, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, growing up in Paris in the ‘50s. It is difficult to make any assumptions about Antoine’s life; throughout most of the film it seems like he has a standard family life, but he acts out at school and is frequently in trouble. As the bits of the story start to fall into place, everything starts to become clearer and the affection an adult may have for the character starts to transform.
In much of popular cinema, viewers are given what they need to know about many characters within the first quarter of the film and then the story plays out for our enjoyment. Truffaut’s film, like many on this list, turns that idea on its ear. We are introduced to the character of Antoine and then have to wait an hour and a half to really understand the character. During this time we develop an opinion of the boy before all of these notions smack us in the mouth, and we start to look back at each experience recognize what we have missed.
When I say that I wish I’d watched this when I was an adolescent, I do not mean that watching it today is any less important. The soul of The 400 Blows is a teaching tool about the troubles that some families suffer and how it reflects on their children. Growing up I knew several children similar to Antoine and I did not treat them as well as I should have; this was from ignorance, not malice, but that is only an excuse, not a solution.
Watching the film today can have an equal effect on how to live as a human, even though it looks a little different. I do not have too much interaction with children, troubled or otherwise, but I feel a little better prepared to understand their actions when they may need a different sort of help than I may have initially assumed they need. This can also be applied to adults who have lived through an Antoine-type youth.
Before last July (2014), I cannot remember too many times that I walked away from a film feeling like I know people better than I did when I walked in. I cannot even say that I knew as much about The 400 Blows until I wrote this, when I sat down and really thought about what I had watched. I placed the disclaimer at the beginning with purpose. I wanted you to start reading with a preconceived thought that I did not care for this film. I wanted you have to a first-glance opinion. I hope that, in six paragraphs, I might have had a slight chance of replicating my experience with Truffaut’s The 400 Blows.