April 20, 2020

The 400 Blows, the first film of the new wave

A famous tracking shot in the history of cinema

Les 400 coups, François Truffaut's first film, is without a doubt the most important film of the New Wave along with Jean-Luc Godard's A bout de souffle. It is also the first film of Jean-Pierre Léaud (see also his essay for the film below), 14 years old at the time, who plays the role of Antoine Doinel that he will represent four other times under the direction of his mentor. Antoine Doinel is obviously François Truffaut. In Les 400 Coups, he tells the story of his difficult childhood, his tumultuous relationship with his divorced parents and his petty theft that will send him to a center for juvenile delinquents. The film takes place mainly in Paris. However, the center for juvenile delinquents is located in the provinces and occupies the last sequences of the film. The film was shot at the Moulin d'Andé in the Eure region, where François Truffaut returned for Jules et Jim. But it is in Villers-sur-Mer, on the beach at the foot of the cliffs of the Vaches Noires that the famous final scene of the film takes place, which all film lovers around the world have in mind. This scene was shot a few days before Christmas 1958 in complete anonymity. In the film, Jean-Pierre Léaud takes advantage of a soccer match to escape from the center for delinquents and runs towards the sea. The tracking shot starts in the countryside, then the kid arrives on the beach, goes down a staircase and runs towards the sea, puts his feet in the water, turns around and gives a camera look that freezes on the word End. It is a master stroke for the director who signs a major film on adolescence. It was presented in competition at Cannes in May 1959 where it aroused enthusiasm and received the prize for direction. 

From a country road to the beach

Un gars gouailleur : the young Léaud's attempt at the 400 coups

The film in detail

Director: François Truffaut. His assistant is Philippe de Broca, future director of "The Man from Rio".
Screenplay : François Truffaut.
Dialogues : Marcel Moussy
Photographer: Henri Decae.
Music: Jean Constantin.
Production company: Les films du Carrosse, which François Truffaut founded with money from his parents-in-law. But his parents will be angry with him, at the release of the film, believing to be caricatured.
The film was released in theaters on June 3, 1959 and in a few days accumulated 450 000 spectators.
In the main roles: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Remy... We see in the film the friends of François Truffaut as extras. Among them: Jean-Claude Brialy, Jeanne Moreau and François Truffaut himself as a fervent admirer of Alfred Hitchcock. We also hear the voices of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Paul Belmondo.


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