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The 400 Blows

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The 400 Blows
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrançois Truffaut
Written by
Produced by
  • François Truffaut
  • Georges Charlot[1]
CinematographyHenri Decaë
Edited byMarie-Josèphe Yoyotte
Music byJean Constantin
Les Films du Carrosse
Distributed byCocinor
Release date
  • 4 May 1959 (1959-05-04) (France)
Running time
99 minutes
Box office$30.7 million[2]

The 400 Blows (French: Les quatre cents coups) is a 1959 French coming-of-age drama film,[3] and the directorial debut of François Truffaut, who also co-wrote the film. Shot in the anamorphic format DyaliScope, the film stars Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, and Claire Maurier. One of the defining films of the French New Wave,[4] it displays many of the characteristic traits of the movement. Written by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, the film is about Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood adolescent in Paris who struggles with his parents and teachers due to his rebellious behavior. Filmed on location in Paris and Honfleur, it is the first in a series of five films in which Léaud plays the semi-autobiographical character.

The 400 Blows received numerous awards and nominations, including the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director, the OCIC Award, and a Palme d'Or nomination in 1959, and was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1960. The film had 4.1 million admissions in France, making it Truffaut's most successful film in his home country.[5]

The 400 Blows is widely considered one of the best films ever made; in the 2022 Sight & Sound critics' poll of the greatest films ever made, it was ranked 50th.[6] It ranked 33rd in the directors' poll on the same list.



Antoine Doinel is a young boy growing up in Paris. Misunderstood by his parents for skipping school and stealing and tormented in school for disciplinary problems by his teacher (such as writing on the classroom wall and later lying about his absences as being due to his mother's death), he frequently runs away from both places. He finally quits school after his teacher accuses him of plagiarizing Balzac, though Antoine loves Balzac and in a school essay he describes "the death of my grandfather," in a close paraphrase of Balzac from memory. He steals a Royal typewriter from his stepfather's workplace to finance his plans to leave home, but being unable to sell it, he is apprehended while trying to return it.

Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) in the final scene

The stepfather turns Antoine over to police and Antoine spends the night in jail, sharing a cell with prostitutes and thieves. During an interview with the judge, Antoine's mother confesses that her husband is not her son's biological father. Antoine is placed in an observation center for troubled youths near the seashore (as his mother wished). A psychologist at the center looks for reasons for Antoine's unhappiness, which the youth reveals in a fragmented series of monologues.

While playing football with the other boys, Antoine escapes under a fence and runs away to the ocean, which he has always wanted to see. He reaches the shoreline of the sea and runs into it. The film concludes with a freeze-frame of Antoine, which, via an optical effect, zooms in on his face as he looks into the camera.



Truffaut also included a number of friends (fellow directors) in bit or background parts, including himself and Philippe De Broca in the funfair scene; Jacques Demy as a policeman; Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Paul Belmondo as overheard voices (Belmondo's in the print works scene).



The semi-autobiographical film reflects events of Truffaut's life.[7] In style, it references other French works—most notably a scene borrowed wholesale from Jean Vigo's Zéro de conduite.[8] Truffaut dedicated the film to the man who became his spiritual father, André Bazin, who died just as the film was about to be shot.[8]

Besides being a character study, the film is an exposé of the injustices of the treatment of juvenile offenders in France at the time.[9]

According to Annette Insdorf writing for the Criterion Collection, the film is "rooted in Truffaut's childhood."[7] This includes how both Antoine and Truffaut "found a substitute home in the movie theater" and both did not know their biological fathers.[7]




Theatrical advertisement from 1959

The English title is a literal translation of the French that fails to capture its meaning, as the French title refers to the idiom "faire les quatre cents coups", meaning "to raise hell".[10] On the first prints in the United States, subtitler and dubber Noelle Gillmor translated the title as Wild Oats, but the distributor Zenith did not like that and reverted it to The 400 Blows.[11]

Filming locations


Most of The 400 Blows was filmed in Paris:[12]

The exception was for scenes filmed at the reform school, which were filmed in Honfleur, a small coastal town in the northern French province of Normandy. The final beach scene was filmed in Villers-sur-Mer, a few miles to the southwest.[13]





The film opened the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and was widely acclaimed, winning numerous awards, including the Best Director Award at Cannes,[14] the Critics Award of the 1959 New York Film Critics' Circle[15] and the Best European Film Award at 1960's Bodil Awards.[16] It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 32nd Academy Awards.[17] The film holds a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 71 reviews, with a weighted average of 9.4/10. The website's critical consensus states, "A seminal French New Wave film that offers an honest, sympathetic, and wholly heartbreaking observation of adolescence without trite nostalgia."[18]

The film is among the top 10 of the British Film Institute's list of 50 films that should be seen by age 15.[19]

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Title Result Ref.
1959 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or François Truffaut Nominated [14]
Best Director François Truffaut Won
OCIC Award François Truffaut Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Foreign Language Film The 400 Blows Won [15]
Cahiers du cinéma Annual Top 10 List François Truffaut 5th [20]
1960 Academy Awards Best Original Screenplay François Truffaut, Marcel Moussy Nominated [17]
Bodil Awards Best European Film The 400 Blows Won [16]
French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Best Film The 400 Blows Won
1961 BAFTA Best Film from Any Source François Truffaut Nominated [21]
Most Promising Newcomer Jean-Pierre Léaud Nominated
Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Director François Truffaut Won [16]



Truffaut made four other films with Léaud depicting Antoine at later stages of his life: Antoine and Colette (which was Truffaut's contribution to the 1962 anthology Love at Twenty), Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run.

Filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel, Satyajit Ray, Steven Spielberg, Jean Cocteau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Richard Linklater, Tsai Ming Liang, Woody Allen, Richard Lester, P C Sreeram, Norman Jewison, Wes Anderson and Nicolas Cage have cited The 400 Blows as one of their favorite movies.[22][23] Kurosawa called it "one of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen".[24]

Martin Scorsese included it on a list of "39 Essential Foreign Films for a Young Filmmaker."[25]

The film was ranked #29 in Empire magazine's list of "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010.[26] In 2018, the film was voted the eighth greatest foreign-language film of all time in BBC's poll of 209 critics in 43 countries.[27]

The festival poster for the 71st Venice International Film Festival paid tribute to the film as it featured the character of Antoine Doinel portrayed by Jean-Pierre Léaud.[28][29]


  1. ^ "The 400 Blows Cast/ Credits". Criterion. Archived from the original on 28 July 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  2. ^ Box Office information for Francois Truffaut films Archived 27 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine at Box Office Story
  3. ^ "The 400 Blows review – François Truffaut's coming-of-age masterwork". The Guardian. 6 January 2022. Retrieved 27 June 2022.
  4. ^ Zeitchik, Steve (23 October 2016). "Growth Spurt". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 23 November 2016. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  5. ^ "Les Quatre cents coups". J.P.'s Box-Office. Archived from the original on 20 April 2016. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  6. ^ "The Greatest Films Poll". bfi.org.uk. BFI. Archived from the original on 14 January 2024. Retrieved 15 January 2024.
  7. ^ a b c Insdorf, Annette (8 April 2014). "The 400 Blows: Close to Home". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  8. ^ a b Cook, David A. (February 2016). A history of narrative film (Fifth ed.). New York. p. 352. ISBN 9780393920093. OCLC 931035778.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  9. ^ Rosen, J.T. "400 Blows". Burns Film Center. Archived from the original on 24 April 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  10. ^ "faire les quatre cents coups - Wiktionary". en.wiktionary.org. Archived from the original on 28 January 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  11. ^ "Movie Poster of the Week: François Truffaut's "The 400 Blows"". MUBI. 10 February 2012.
  12. ^ "Introduction: The 400 Blows / Les Quatre cents coups". web.cocc.edu.
  13. ^ "The 400 Blows: finding that beach and the Paris locations today". BFI. 11 January 2022. Retrieved 5 March 2024.
  14. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: The 400 Blows". festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on 16 September 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  15. ^ a b Crowther, Bosley (3 January 1960). "Critics' Choices". The New York Times. p. 255. Retrieved 13 December 2022.
  16. ^ a b c "Cinema City - Les quatre cents coups | 1959". cinemacity.org. Retrieved 13 December 2022.
  17. ^ a b "1960 | Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences". www.oscars.org. 5 October 2014. Retrieved 13 December 2022.
  18. ^ "The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 23 May 2019. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  19. ^ "50 films to see by age 15-BFI". www.bfi.org. 6 May 2020. Archived from the original on 25 January 2021. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  20. ^ Johnson, Eric C. "Cahiers du Cinema: Top Ten Lists 1951-2009". alumnus.caltech.edu. Archived from the original on 27 March 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2022.
  21. ^ "Film in 1961 | BAFTA Awards". awards.bafta.org. Retrieved 13 December 2022.
  22. ^ "BFI | Sight & Sound | Top Ten Poll 2002". Archived from the original on 4 December 2009.
  23. ^ "Akira Kurosawa's Top 100 Movies!". Archived from the original on 27 March 2010.
  24. ^ "The 400 Blows". movie-film-review.com. Archived from the original on 14 July 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  25. ^ "Martin Scorsese Creates a List of 39 Essential Foreign Films for a Young Filmmaker". Open Culture. 15 October 2014. Archived from the original on 7 February 2015. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  26. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema | 29. The 400 Blows". Empire. Archived from the original on 2 December 2011. Retrieved 30 July 2010.
  27. ^ "The 100 greatest foreign-language films". BBC Culture. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  28. ^ "Venice Film Fest Unveils Poster for 71st Edition". The Hollywood Reporter. 4 July 2014. Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 28 August 2014.
  29. ^ "Venice Film Festival 2014: What we know so far". Swide. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. Retrieved 28 August 2014.

Further reading