Antoine (a young Jean-Pierre Léaud, in his first film role) is a Parisian boy who spends most of his time with his best friend, Rene. But their attempts to escape both neglectful parents and overbearing adult authority soon end in disaster. Finding himself in trouble with the law, Antoine now faces another struggle for freedom, one that will potentially define his life just as his own sense of self is coming into view.
Both stark and intimate, The 400 Blows is an iconic depiction of the tearaway spirit of youthful adolescence. Shot and structured with powerful simplicity, the film was partly based on Truffaut’s own childhood, giving birth to an entirely new notion of personal, subjective cinema in the 1960s as part of the French New Wave’s redefinition of the medium of film.
Propelling the careers of both Truffaut and Léaud – who would go on to work with directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Agnes Varda, Pasolini, Aki Kaurismäki, Catherine Breillat and Tsai Ming-liang, as well as returning to star as Antoine in several more films for Truffaut – The 400 Blows has also had a monumental impact on multiple generations of filmmakers (Martin Scorsese, Bong Joon-ho and many more cite it as a major influence), as well as often being labelled one of cinema’s greatest directorial debuts.
But what is so remarkable about Truffaut’s film is today is how palpably alive and fresh it still feels. A portrait of the eternal present, depicting a threshold between the past of childhood and the future of adulthood, it remains a vital, poignant portrait of formative experience. Capturing youth on the very edge of change, The 400 Blows demands to be rediscovered all over again.
This new 4K restoration of The 400 Blows is being released as part of the BFI’s ongoing season celebrating the work of Francois Truffaut. Tyneside Cinema will be screening the next release in this series, Jules et Jim, in February.