The 400 Blows (Quatre Cents Coups, Les) (1959)

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Released 10-Sep-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Filmographies-Crew-Francois Truffaut
Short Film-Les Mistons, Francois Truffaut's 1957 Short Film
Trailer-Wages Of Fear, La Dolce Vita, Pandora's Box, Jules And Jim
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1959
Running Time 95:20
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (69:28) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By François Truffaut
Studio
Distributor
Les FilmsDu Carrosse
Madman Entertainment
Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud
Claire Maurier
Albert Rémy
Guy Decomble
Georges Flamant
Patrick Auffray
Daniel Couturier
François Nocher
Richard Kanayan
Renaud Fontanarosa
Michel Girard
Henry Moati
Bernard Abbou
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Jean Constantin


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     The importance of this film should not be underrated. François Truffaut's gift to the cinematic world with Les Quatre Cents Coups was a new style of film. Rather than the formal, vaguely melodramatic structures which bowed low to their theatrical antecedents, Truffaut's "New Wave" burst from the blocks, as petulant and rebellious as any adolescent, and equally pulsing with life. He abandoned all the stylised conventions and created instead a blur of hand-held camera images, sweeping giddy pans and radically simplified structure that better represented life as it was, rather than glossy life through a lens. It was grittier, edgier, and less comfortable to watch - like a drunken pugilist, it forced its way right into the face of the viewer and provided none of the easy escapes to which an audience was accustomed. It polarised reactions - people loved it or loathed it - but they couldn't ignore it. Before their very eyes, cinema was growing up.

     As was its protagonist, Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud), Truffaut's semi-autobiographical central character. Antoine is a 12 year old boy struggling through the pitfalls of prepubescent life, a task made no easier by his indifferent mother, his ineffectual stepfather, and a culture which hadn't really "invented" adolescence yet. This was the late 50s. Rock and Roll was foreshadowing the hints of the youth culture that was to follow, but for Antoine, that would come all too late. Living in a cramped and squalid apartment, listening to his parents speculate about sending him to an orphanage, and finding no refuge in an almost penally-structured schoolroom, Antoine and his pal Rene (Patrick Auffray) look for validation on the streets of Paris. The day they wag school to enjoy the temptations of a funfair's rotorscope provides one of the most haunting images of cinema, as Antoine struggles against the G-forces, looks of agony and ecstasy pressed simultaneously on his face.

     In order to fund their "delinquency," they decide to steal a typewriter from Antoine's stepfather's office with the intention of pawning it. When their attempts go hopelessly wrong, Antoine is nabbed as he tries to return the machine. With his parents' compliance, he is dealt with by the police, landing him in a cage at the station, then a ride in a police van to the courthouse, mashed up with the adult night-dwellers and miscreants. His passivity and resigned acceptance of their harsh treatment is achingly painful to watch.

     Finally, it is agreed that he will be interred at a juvenile detention centre. The scene where he talks of his life and thoughts to an unseen psychiatrist is perhaps one of the most moving, intimate and confronting pieces of film I have ever witnessed. The honesty and naturalness of Léaud's performance is literally breathtaking. Never before have I seen a child's performance be so spontaneous, so subtle, so paralysingly matter-of-fact.

     (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Eventually, Antoine breaks free and makes a run for it. Starting with long, strong, energetic strides, he arrives at his mythic, never-seen destination - the sea - in exhausted, shuffling steps. It's as if the run took him through youth into the disillusionment of an older age. As he stands at the shoreline, feet now dipped in the baptism of coming-of-age, he turns to face the camera, and, freeze frame - his eyes lock onto ours. It is one of the most famous endings in film. It deserves to be.

     It may be worthwhile making the point that "les quatres cents coups," while transliterating to "400 blows," is actually a French idiom that would translate as "raising hell." That makes a lot more sense of the title, and provides much more of the irony that would have been Truffaut's intent - who was raising hell for whom, exactly?

     Cinematographically, Les Quatre Cents Coups is, well, delicious. It seems to be something about the French photographic eye. When one views photographs by the ilk of Cartier-Bresson, Boubat, Doisneau and Ronis, they have an animation and energy that jump from the page. Conversely, the cinematography by Henri Decaë in Les Quatre Cents Coups is so rich, it's almost like a series of still shots viewed in succession. Perhaps it was this supremacy of visual mastery that led one wag to comment that when he was young, he thought that France was in black and white! For certain, the images are rich, textured and fascinating, and tend to linger in the mind a long time.

     At times the piece becomes a little fragmented, but perhaps, like life, film can just sometimes be a little messy. On the front of the disc's box is a quote from the legendary Akira Kurasawa - "One of the most beautiful films that I have seen." I agree, Akira, I agree.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     This is a remastered version of the film, and I would say that overall, it's brought it up to look as good as can be expected.

     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, which appears to be its original format.

     For a black and white film, luminance is everything. Here there is fortunately no low level noise and excellent shadow detail. There is a wonderful range of tonal contrast with true blacks and true whites with wonderfully subtle gradients in between.

    There were a number of film artefacts present, including some very noticeable splice jumps at the commencement of nearly every scene. There is a particularly prominent hair mark that appears from 63:06 and remains till 63:21 which is very distracting, and appears to be a transfer fault. There is mild motion blur and quite abundant amounts of aliasing throughout the presentation. There is also a jittering to the pans which can be something of a nuisance.

     Subtitles are clean, legible and timely, and are well positioned on the screen.

     This disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change placed at 69:28. It is handled very well and does not disrupt the viewing experience.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The soundtrack overall is very sharp and rather shrill in places which can set one's teeth on edge a fraction.

     The only available audio track is a French Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

     Generally, the dialogue was pretty clear, although there were times when it was muffled by some distortions or rendered so sharply as to be a little ear-splitting. There were cracks and pops and hisses throughout which were true to its heritage I suppose. Audio sync was rather variable - with scenes where it was somewhat lagging.

     The musical score by Jean Constantin was something that Truffaut himself agonised over. He is on record as retrospectively rueing that he allowed a score that swung over to melodrama on occasions. I tend to agree with him. At times, it was too florid for the piece. For example, the intended irony as Antoine is taken away in the van is overshadowed by the overly inflated music. There are many occasions in the film where Truffaut relied on a scarcer score, or even no music at all, and each time, without exception, these scenes were the more dramatic for his choice.

     There was no significant sense of direction in the soundtrack, although there were occasional hints of subwoofer at more dramatic moments.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

     The menu is silent, with a still from the feature, and is easy to navigate.

Theatrical Trailer (3:46)

     This is the original theatrical trailer, back from the days when trailers were like trucks - big, chunky and loaded to the gunnels with information!

François Truffaut Filmography

     Four pages of chronologically listed films.

Short Film -Les Mistons (1957), (The Brats) (17:18)

     A little film that predates Les Quatres Cents Coups by a couple of years but shows the nascent talent of the film critic who was becoming a filmmaker. It is the tale of Bernadette, a young girl so impossibly beautiful that she incurs the spiteful attention of a pack of urchins. They are besotted by her, but, young as they are, know no other way to show it than to torment her. There are some nasty scratches in this presentation and the audio sync is horribly off, but there is much to see in this little film.

Umbrella Propaganda:

     Previews for the films:

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

      There is a Criterion release of this film which is hard to beat. That version has:     

    These features are hard to beat, but there again, they don't have Les Mistons, which is a true benefit. This is going to be a line call. I'll give it to R4 but only reservedly so. You'll have to decide which features are more meaningful to you to make your decision.

Summary

     There's an achingly sad quality to this film underneath its defiant exterior. Certainly, time has placed its stamp upon it, but that has its own value. The acting is nothing short of remarkable and the imagery is haunting and evocative. The transfer is acceptable, given the stock that it came from. This is a lesson in filmmaking and film history, and deserves its place in film's hall of fame.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Sunday, February 08, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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Comments (Add)
R4/Criterion Comparison - David McGowan REPLY POSTED
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