Les Quatre cents coups

(1959)
   Film. Les Quatre cents coups was the first feature-length film by director François Truffaut. An important contribution to la Nouvelle Vague, or the New Wave, it narrates the troubles of Antoine Doinel (Pierre Léaud), a young teenager. The actor Léaud would later be cast in Truffaut's Antoine Doinel cycle, which includes the segment Antoine et Colette (1962), Baisers volés (1968), and Domicile conjugal (1970). Léaud, whose life resembles the details of Truffaut's own life, has often been perceived as Truffaut's cinematic double.
   In the opening sequence of Les Quatre cent coups, Antoine is caught during class with a picture of a pinup model in a bathing suit. He is ordered to stand against the wall, where he writes words that challenge the teacher's authority. Antoine goes home to his parents, who do not hide their wishes to send the boy away. Antoine skips school the next day and spies his mother (Claire Maurier) kissing a lover. Later at school, he blames his truancy on his mother's death. The adults are aghast at the lie. Antoine runs away from home temporarily. He and his friend René (Patrick Auffay) steal a typewriter. When Antoine is caught, his father (Albert Rémy) asks the police to do something. The authorities and parents agree to send Antoine to reform school, where he resides briefly before he escapes to the sea. Antoine's face is captured onscreen in Truffaut's famous concluding freeze-frame.
   Les Quatre cents coups is almost certainly an autobiographical film, although Truffaut altered certain details about his past. The film was shot in neighborhoods where Truffaut spent his childhood and echoes his early experiences as an unwanted child. Like Antoine, Truffaut loved the cinema, skipped school, and engaged in theft. He was sent to reform school in Villejuif but was rescued by film critic André Bazin, to whom the film is dedicated. Like his character Antoine, Truffaut himself often challenged the authority figures around him. As a critic and filmmaker Truffaut would also be known for questioning the received order. He is, for example, well known for his critiques of the established French tradition de qualité, or tradition of quality.
   Les Quatre cents coups does not, however, constitute a break with all film tradition. Scholars have frequently asserted that the film marks a certain return to the réalisme poétique, or poetic realism of earlier French cinema, specifically in its representation of the working classes, and its foregrounding of the Parisian landscape. The film was one of France's official selections at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, despite the fact that Truffaut had been banned from the festival a year earlier for his written attacks on the French film industry. Truffaut took the award for Best Director, and his film brought in an estimated 450,000 spectators upon its release, making it the New Wave's first big triumph at the French box office.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

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