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Saturday, 12 May 2012

The 400 Blows (aka: Le quatre cents coups)

Spotlight on Movie Mothers... Monster Mothers

The 400 Blows is François Truffaut's first film, and also the first film in the Antoine Doinel series. It was voted #29 on Empire's list of 100 Best Films of World Cinema, 2010.


This semi-autobiographical character study tells of a young boy Antoine Doinel (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), who turns to a life of crime after suffering neglect from his parents, and harsh criticism from his teacher.

French new wave (la nouvelle vague) cinema

'The 400 Blows' is a defining film of the French new wave (la nouvelle vague) movement displaying many of its techniques, such as:

  • Use of a hand-held camera - used effectively as the camera scours the Doinel apartment, and the narrow staircase leading to the apartment
  • Location shooting
  • Panning and tracking shots 
  • Ambiguous ending (New wave's most defining feature)

Antoine's relationship with his mother

Mrs. Doinel is cold, bossy, negative and degrading towards Antoine. Mrs. Doinel often complains Antoine is a wild child, and she can't control him. And one stage she says "He gets on my nerves". But is it because of her behaviour, that Antoine appears to be misunderstood.  Antoine does not have his own bedroom and is forced to sleep in a sleeping bag on the couch. 
During the film, Antoine wags school with a friend. The next day when he returns to school, his teacher asks him why he was not at school. Antoine replies it was because his mother died. This is significant, because deep inside Antoine feels his mother is dead, evident by the nature of their relationship. In one scene, Antoine says "I could tell my mother didn't like me. She was always yelling at me for no reason." Later in the film we find out the man married to his mother is not his biological father. Antoine was an unplanned pregnancy, and his mother had wanted to have an abortion, however Antoine's grandmother would not let her. It is resentment of never wanting Antoine which leads to her treatment of Antoine.
In one scene, Antoine finds out his mother is having an affair with another man. Shortly after, Antoine's mother behaves very different towards him, bathing him and smothering him with kisses, as if he were a newborn. She also encourages him to sleep in her bed, as he would be "more comfortable there". This leaves the viewer wondering if the change in behavour is out of maternal instinct, or if it is because she is scared Antoine may tell Mr. Doinel she is having an affair.

**Spoiler alert** Ambiguous ending 

A key feature of new wave was including an ambiguous ending. This technique was designed to provoke thought and discussion after the film. At the conclusion of the film, we can't help wondering what's next for Antoine. Will he get away, or will he be caught? Unfortunately we never find out, as the film's sequel continues several years later, and does not provide closure to this film.

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