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The 400 Blows(1959)
François Truffaut’s first feature, The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups), is also his most personal. Told through the eyes of Truffaut’s life-long cinematic counterpart, Antoine Doinel, The 400 Blows sensitively re-creates the trials of Truffaut’s own difficult childhood, unsentimentally portraying aloof parents, oppressive teachers, petty crime, and a friendship that would last a lifetime. The film marks Truffaut’s passage from leading critic of the French New Wave to his emergence as one of Europe’s most brilliant auteurs.
For more about The 400 Blows and the The 400 Blows Blu-ray release, see the The 400 Blows Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on March 1, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Robert Beauvais, Claire Maurier, Albert Remy, Guy Decomble, Patrick Auffay
Director: François Truffaut
» See full cast & crew
The 400 Blows Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, March 1, 2009
Nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or Award and winner of the Best Director and OCIC Awards at the Cannes Film Festival, François Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" (1959) is a true treasure of World Cinema. The film is inspired by the French director's own childhood story. Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
12-year-old Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud, Masculin Féminin, La Chinoise) is a troublemaker. He skips school and goes to the movies, steals, lies and runs away from home. But he wants to be good; he takes care of the garbage and helps his stepfather cook. Occasionally, he even tries to get his homework done.
At school, Antoine isn't liked. His teacher (Guy Decombie, Bob Le Flambeur) is convinced that the youngster is always up to no good and routinely reminds him that he is keeping an eye on him. Antoine doesn't like his teacher either. The two argue a lot and the boy often ends up standing alone in front of the classroom board.
Antoine's mother (Claire Maurier, La Cage aux Folles) isn't too fond of her son. She is also having an affair with another man, who treats her in a way her husband doesn't. Because she has grown tired of the tiny apartment the Doinel family shares, she spends as much time away from it as possible. Antoine's stepfather does not know about his wife's affair; he believes that she works a lot to provide for the family.
While away from school, Antoine sees his mother with her lover. He does not reveal to his stepfather what he has seen, but makes it clear to his mother that he knows about her affair. For a short period of time things change for the better and the Doinel family become closer.
Very soon, however, Antoine is again in trouble. He is caught stealing and quickly sent to a correctional facility. The boy is angry and so are his parents. As time goes by, Antoine learns about life, responsibility and dignity. Eventually, he earns his freedom, but not the forgiveness of his family.
François Truffaut's The 400 Blows chronicles a young boy's struggle to become independent in a world ruled by adults. We begin to feel about Antoine the moment we see him, we understand what his heart desires, but we also realize that he cannot outsmart those he disagrees with; as the story progresses, we see that he is always punished when he attempts to see the world around him without the usual stop signs.
Like all great coming-of-age films, The 400 Blows boasts memorable images that linger with us long after the end credits roll. There are sequences in it that are so beautiful we don't want the main characters to utter their lines and disrupt the magic. It is almost as if we have discovered a painting that has suddenly come alive; Truffaut's The 400 Blows is that mesmerizingly beautiful and real.
Dedicated to the great André Bazin -- a close friend of Truffaut and founder of Cahiers du Cinema, the influential French film magazine -- The 400 Blows is also an incredibly tender film. Even though Antoine experiences so many disappointments, we rarely see him angry. On the contrary, he finds humor in his failures and smiles at those who punish him; we do not detect a sense of guilt through his actions either.
I saw The 400 Blows rather late, after I had already seen Louis Malle's Le Souffle au Coeur a.k.a. Murmur of the Heart, another terrific coming-of-age film. For reasons I'd rather not talk about, I ended up attending a special screening where the film was shown to a select few, dubbed in a foreign language. I doubt those who saw it with me understood it. Later on, I remember many of them openly dismissing it as a naive and childish story about a boy who couldn't stay away from trouble. For me, The 400 Blows was a revelation. The final sequence where Antoine looks at the ocean and then runs into the water overjoyed by his newly found freedom stayed with me for years. It also inspired me to break free of the world I could not tolerate.
The 400 Blows Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, François Truffaut's 400 Blows arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the leaflet provided with this Blu-ray release:
"This new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm composite fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System. The soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack, and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss, and crackle.
Telecine supervisors: Lee Kline, Maria Palazzola.
Telecine colorist: Jean-Marc Moreau/Vdm, Paris."
I could not wait to get my hands on this Blu-ray disc. Aside from The Third Man, this is the second black-and-white film to be released on Blu-ray by the U.S. distributors and I was very, very impatient to see what they have done. First of all, the color scheme is terrific -- the blacks are lush and very rich, while the whites are crisp and natural ooking. Furthermore, contrast is fantastic. As soon as I received the disc, I took my DVD release of The 400 Blows (from The Adventures of Antoine Doinel box set) and ran a few quick comparisons to see where and what the Blu-ray version improves. Aside from the stronger detail and contrast, this new high-definition presentation holds together substantially better on a large-size screen. Second, I must note that there are absolutely no traces of problematic degraining correction. Indeed, the grain structure of the film is very much intact, and I am convinced that film buffs will be pleased with the organic qualities of the high-definition transfer. Third, there aren't any large scratches, debris, damage marks, or stains that could spoil your viewing experience (obviously, if you have already seen how good the DVD version of The 400 Blows looked, then you should have a pretty good idea what to expect from the Blu-ray release). This being said, I have to mention that there are a few minor sharpness fluctuations that were also present on the French MK2 Blu-ray release of The 400 Blows. More than likely, however, these fluctuations are inherited. To sum it all up, François Truffaut's masterpiece undoubtedly looks the best I have ever seen it look in my lifetime. Outstanding! (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
The 400 Blows Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Criterion have supplied French LPCM audio track for the Blu-ray release of François Truffaut's The 400 Blows. As expected, the audio treatment is as solid as the video presentation discussed above. The dialog is crisp, very clear and without any distortions that I could detect. Furthermore, Jean Constantin's music sounds quite lovely. As far as I am concerned, the soundtrack is also notably well balanced (indeed, it is fairly easy to tell that the audio has undergone a full-blown restoration). You won't hear any disturbing pops, background hiss, or cracks either. This is a solid and well cleaned up audio track that most definitely does not reveal any technical deficiencies. Finally, Criterion have provided optional white English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
The 400 Blows Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All of the supplemental materials found on the SDVD release of François Truffaut's 400 Blows have been ported to the Blu-ray disc. First, there are two audio commentaries, one by cinema Professor Brian Stonehill and another by François Truffaut's lifelong friend Robert Lachenay. Both commentaries are very informative, but I personally prefer the one by Mr. Lachenay as it offers a very personal look at The 400 Blows and its director (the French-language commentary features optional italicized English subtitles). Interviews - here you will see rare 16mm screen tests featuring an interview with Jean-Pierre Léaud, an improvised dialogue between Léaud and Patrick Auffay (René in the film), and an audition by Richard Kanayan (who plays one of the children, and went on to appear in Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Players ). Cannes 1959 - this newsreel excerpt from Francois Chalais and Jacques Planche's Reflets de Cannes 1959 presents the excitement of the film's screening and award winning at the festival (Truffaut won Best Actor), along with Jean-Pierre Léaud's thoughts about being in the acclaimed film. Cineaste de notre temps - this excerpt from the "Francois Truffaut ou l'espirit critique" episode of the French TV show Cineaste de notre temps (December 2, 1965) features Truffaut discussing his youth, his critical writings for Cahiers du cinema, and the beginnings of Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows and Antoine and Colette. Other interviewees include Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Remy (Antoine's stepfather), and collaborator Claude de Givray. Cinepanorama - in this excerpt from the TV show Cinepanorama (Jean Bescout, February 20th, 1960), host France Roche interviews Francois Truffaut after his return from New York, where The 400 Blows was named Best Foreign Film by the New York Film Critics Circle. He discusses the global reception of The 400 Blows and performs some self-critical evaluation of his work. Finally, there is also a theatrical trailer. The Blu-ray disc also arrives with a lovely booklet where you would find "Close to Home", a very informative essay by film scholar Annette Insdorf.
The 400 Blows Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Criterion deliver again! Truffaut's timeless The 400 Blows looks and sounds spectacular! I am unsure what to say here that hasn't already been said better by other film critics. So, I would simply like to encourage you to do whatever it takes to add The 400 Blows to your film collections. Simply put, they will be incomplete without it. Very Highly Recommended.
The 400 Blows: Other Editions
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The 400 Blows Blu-ray, News and Updates
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• Criterion Details 400 Blows and Last Metro - January 13, 2009
The Criterion Collection has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray releases of 'The 400 Blows' and 'The Last Metro', both of which are due to hit store shelves on March 24th. Both titles will receive 1080p video transfers with ...
• Criterion Announces The 400 Blows and The Last Metro Blu-rays - December 17, 2008
The Criterion Collection has added two titles to their list of upcoming Blu-ray releases. On March 24th they will release François Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows' and 'The Last Metro' in stunning high definition. Both titles will be released in OAR via 1080p AVC video ...
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