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Fox Lorber presents
The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups) (1959)

"If he came home, he would only run away again."
- Madame Doinel (Claire Maurier)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: July 11, 2002

Stars: Jean-Pierre Léaud
Other Stars: Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Guy Decomble, George Flamont
Director: François Truffaut

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some language, mature themes)
Run Time: 01h:39m:20s
Release Date: April 23, 2002
UPC: 720917507828
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

François Truffaut's The 400 Blows is a landmark piece of cinema; the first picture from the revered director, and one of the cornerstones of the early French New Wave, it's also one of the most poignant and revelatory films ever made about an adolescent's coming of age. Truffaut, directing from his own script at the age of 27, based the story of the troubled youth Antoine Doinel (the solemn, reserved Léaud) at least in part on his own childhood.

Antoine (a character eventually featured in four other Truffaut films) isn't really a bad kid. We see a bit of his life at home, at school and with friends. His parents barely pay attention to him. His stepfather (Albert Rémy) is friendly with the boy, but not intimate; he's far too concerned with matters in his own life and work. His mother (Claire Maurier), meanwhile, is either fretting about money matters or her affair with a man from work; she rarely has time to spend with Antoine. They barely know their own son (though they live together in a ridiculously cramped apartment), and aren't willing to sacrifice their own lives to deal with his.

At school, Antoine is labeled a troublemaker by his teacher (though he is obviously intelligent, reading Balzac at home—he even has a shrine to the famous author in his desk), but he seems more the victim of bad luck rather than any true malicious intent, unconsciously plagiarizing Balzac when writing an essay and getting caught with a dirty picture being passed around the class.

With friends, Antoine seems to get caught up in the moment, again, acting without any real intent to do wrong, but perhaps merely succumbing to the lifestyle that everyone from his teachers to his parents seems to expect of him. He and a friend steal a typewriter, but Antoine is caught whilst trying to return it and put into juvenile detention.

Antoine learns that the world is a harsh place, especially for a child lacking the support of family. His mother lets the police take him away, insisting that he'd only continue his "life of crime" were he allowed to stay at home, and Antoine is behind bars, though he's barely begun puberty. In the film's famous final shot, he has escaped from the detention and runs along a beach. The camera freezes on his mournful expression, as he faces the ocean and the unyielding crash of the world, his future, as the waves slam against the rocks.

Antoine is at the mercy of society, lacking a voice of his own, but he isn't beyond redemption—the ending is bleak, yes, but realistic, and Antoine, if he's lucky, could be saved. Truffaut was. He dedicates the film to André Bazin, a French film critic, who took Truffaut in at a young age, when he was at a crossroads in his life, and facing the same path as Antoine. Bazin instilled in Truffaut a love of the cinema (one clearly evident in The 400 Blows, as movies provide Antoine with his only moments of calm), eventually leading him to a career as a critic himself. Truffaut has said that the cinema literally saved his life, provided direction and a purpose for a rebellious youth. Antoine, facing the same dilemma as any adolescent, needs only to find his own calling, to not succumb to his future and drown in it.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 400 Blows is certainly showing its age with this transfer. The 2.35:1 black & white image is presented without anamorphic enhancement. Contrast is only fair, with many darker scenes looking a bit muddled. Detail is fine, though many scenes suffer from overpowering film grain that causes artifacting on complex surfaces. Print damage is readily apparent, with scratches, splices, and lines running throughout the feature. I'm sure some restoration was done, but a digital upgrade to remove some of the more obtrusive scratches would be nice.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in scratchy mono, in the original French only. There is an audible background hiss throughout, and most of the track suffers from poor fidelity and muffled dialogue.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
9 Other Trailer(s) featuring Jules et Jim, Two English Girls (Les Deux anglaises et le continent), The Last Metro (Le Dernier métro), The Woman Next Door (La Femme d'à côté), Stolen Kisses (Basiers volés), The Soft Skin (La Peau douce), Bed & Board (Domicile conjugal) , Love on the Run (L'Amour en fuite)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Glenn Kenny, film critic for Premiere Magazine
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Awards
  2. Production Credits
Extras Review: Originally available on DVD in a bare bones Criterion edition, the Fox Lorber release of The 400 Blows includes a few bonus features. All of the Truffaut discs include the trailer gallery with clips for 10 of the director's films (The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups), Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim), Two English Girls (Les Deux anglaises et le continent), The Last Metro (Le denier métro), The Woman Next Door (La Femme d'à côté), Confidentially Yours (Vivement dimanche!), Stolen Kisses (Basiers volés), The Soft Skin (La Peau douce), Bed & Board (Domicile conjugal) and Love on the Run (L'Amour en fuite) ).

Also included are some meager text extras—filmographies (including awards won), and a screen listing the cast and crew—and a commentary from Premiere Magazine film critic Glenn Kenny. Kenny's comments are interesting, as he discusses Truffaut's life history and highlights the film's major themes, but after a while he seems to run out of things to say (he even finishes the track several minutes before the end of the film). It's probably more worthwhile as an introduction for Truffaut newcomers, but a welcome inclusion nonetheless.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

The 400 Blows is a landmark film of the French New Wave and an essential purchase for any true film buff. Fox Lorber's DVD is somewhat disappointing, but with the Criterion version long out of print, it's the only game in town.


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