The 400 Blows

The 400 Blows (French: Les Quatre Cents Coups) is a 1959 French New Wave drama film, and the directorial debut of François Truffaut. The film, shot in DyaliScope, stars Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, and Claire Maurier. One of the defining films of the French New Wave,[3] 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
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrançois Truffaut
Produced by
  • François Truffaut
  • Georges Charlot[1]
Written by
Music byJean Constantin
CinematographyHenri Decaë
Edited byMarie-Josèphe Yoyotte
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 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 Oscar for Best Writing in 1960. The film had 4.1 million admissions in France, making it Truffaut's most successful film in his home country.[4]

The 400 Blows is widely considered one of the best French films in the history of cinema; in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll of the greatest films ever made, it was ranked 39th.[5]


Antoine Doinel is a young boy growing up in Paris during the 1950s. Misunderstood by his parents for playing truant from school and stealing, and tormented in school for discipline problems by his teacher (Antoine falsely explains his absence was due to his mother's death), Antoine frequently runs away from both places. He finally quits school after his teacher catches him plagiarizing Balzac. He steals a Remington typewriter from his stepfather's workplace to finance his plans to leave home, but is apprehended while trying to return it.

The stepfather turns Antoine over to the 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 Antoine'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 probes reasons for Antoine's unhappiness, which the youth reveals in a fragmented series of monologues.

While playing football with the other boys one day, 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, and the camera optically zooms in on his face, looking into the camera.


  • Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel
  • Albert Rémy as Julien Doinel, Antoine's stepfather
  • Claire Maurier as Gilberte Doinel, Antoine's mother
  • Guy Decomble as Sourpuss, School teacher
  • Patrick Auffay as René Bigey, Antoine's best friend
  • Georges Flamant as Monsieur Bigey, René's father
  • Pierre Repp as an English teacher
  • Daniel Couturier as Betrand Mauricet
  • Luc Andrieux as Le professeur de gym
  • Robert Beauvais as director of the school
  • Yvonne Claudie as Mme Bigey
  • Marius Laurey as L'inspecteur Cabanel
  • Claude Mansard as the examining magistrate
  • Jacques Monod as commissioner
  • Henri Virlojeux as the night watchman
  • Jeanne Moreau as a woman looking for her dog
  • Jean-Claude Brialy as a man trying to pick up a woman

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 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".[6] On the first prints in the United States, subtitler and dubber Noelle Gillmor gave the film the title Wild Oats, but the distributor did not like that and reverted it to The 400 Blows. Before seeing it, some people thought the film covered the topic of corporal punishment.


The semi-autobiographical film reflects events of Truffaut's and his friends' lives. In style, it expresses Truffaut's personal history of French film, with references to other works—most notably a scene borrowed wholesale from Jean Vigo's Zéro de conduite.[7] 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.[7]

Besides being a character study, the film is an exposé of the injustices of the treatment of juvenile offenders in France at the time.[8]

Filming locations

The following are locations used in the filming:


A seminal French New Wave film that offers an honest, sympathetic, and wholly heartbreaking observation of adolescence without trite nostalgia.

Rotten Tomatoes, The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups) (1959)[9]

The film opened the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and was widely acclaimed, winning numerous awards, including the Best Director Award at Cannes,[10] the Critics Award of the 1959 New York Film Critics' Circle and the Best European Film Award at 1960's Bodil Awards. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 32nd Academy Awards. The film holds a 100% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 57 reviews, with a weighted average of 9.34/10.[9]

The film is among the top ten of the British Film Institute's list of 50 films that should be seen by age 14.

Awards and nominations

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
2005 Online Film & Television Association OFTA Film Hall of Fame The 400 Blows Won
1961 BAFTA Best Film from Any Source François Truffaut Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Jean-Pierre Léaud Nominated
Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Director François Truffaut Won
1960 Academy Awards Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen François Truffaut, Marcel Moussy Nominated
Bodil Awards Best European Film The 400 Blows Won
French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Best Film The 400 Blows Won
1959 Cahiers du cinéma Annual Top 10 List François Truffaut 5th
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or François Truffaut Nominated
Best Director François Truffaut Won
OCIC Award François Truffaut Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Foreign Language Film The 400 Blows Won


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, Jean Cocteau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Tsai Ming Liang, Woody Allen, Richard Lester, P C Sreeram, Norman Jewison and Nicolas Cage have cited The 400 Blows as one of their favorite movies.[11][12] Kurosawa called it "one of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen".[13]

The film was ranked #29 in Empire magazine's list of "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010.[14]

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.[15][16]

See also


  1. "The 400 Blows Cast/ Credits". Criterion. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  2. Box Office information for Francois Truffaut films at Box Office Story
  3. "Growth Spurt". Toronto Star, November 19, 2016, Steven Zeitchik.
  4. "Les Quatre cents coups". J.P.'s Box-Office. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  5. "The Greatest Films Poll". BFI. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  6. "faire les quatre cents coups - Wiktionary". Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  7. A.,, Cook, David. A history of narrative film (Fifth ed.). New York. p. 352. ISBN 9780393920093. OCLC 931035778.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  8. Rosen, J.T. "400 Blows". Burns Film Center. Burns Film Center. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  9. "The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  10. "Festival de Cannes: The 400 Blows". Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  11. "BFI | Sight & Sound | Top Ten Poll 2002". Archived from the original on 4 December 2009.
  12. "Akira Kurosawa's Top 100 Movies!". Archived from the original on 27 March 2010.
  13. "The 400 Blows".
  14. "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema | 29. The 400 Blows". Empire.
  15. "Venice Film Fest Unveils Poster for 71st Edition". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 28 August 2014.
  16. "Venice Film Festival 2014: What we know so far". Swide. Retrieved 28 August 2014.

Further reading

  • Baecque, Antoine de; Toubiana, Serge (1999). Truffaut: A Biography. New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0375400896.
  • Bergan, Ronald, ed. (2008). François Truffaut: Interviews. Oxford: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1934110133.
  • Holmes, Diana; Ingram, Robert, eds. (1998). François Truffaut (French Film Directors). Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0719045530.
  • Insdorf, Annette (1995). François Truffaut. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521478083.
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