the 400 blows – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #5 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
June 22, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“Francois Truffaut’s semibiographical film is captivating and a classic piece of French New Wave. The film has been given special treatment for the Blu-ray version of THE CRITERION COLLECTION and overall, another magnificent release!”
TITLE: the 400 blows – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #5 (aka Les quatre cents coups)
DURATION: 99 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 Aspect Ratio), Monaural, Black & White in French with English Subtitles
COMPANY: THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: June 16, 2009
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Scenario written by Francois Truffaut
Adaption by Marcel Moussy and Francois Truffaut
Dialogue by Marcel Moussy
Produced by Francois Truffaut
Music by Jean Constantin
Director of Photography: Henri Decae
Editing by Marie-Josephe Yoyotte
Set Decoration by Bernard Evein
Jean-Pierre Léaud – Antoine Doinel
Gilberte Doinel – Claire Maurier
Albert Remy – Julien Doinel
Guy Decomble – Petite Feuille, the French teacher
Georges Flamant as Mr. Bigey
Patrick Auffay as Rene
Robert Beauvais as the Director of the School
Pierre Repp as the English Teacher
In 1959, Francois Truffaut released a semibiographical film about his life with “the 4oo blows” (Les quatre cents coups). A film highly regarded as a definitive film that showcases French New Wave (a term to describe a group of French filmmakers in the 1950’s-1960’s that were inspired by classic Hollywood cinema and Italian Neorealism).
The film won several awards which include “Best Director Award” at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and “Best Original Screenplay” at the 32nd Annual Academy Awards. Needless to say, the film made Francois Truffaut and young actor Jean-Pierre Léaud Internationally known and definitely gave movie fans a taste of the French New Wave film.
“the 400 blows” is the first of five films spanning around 20 years based on the character of Antoine Doinel (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud). Each film showcases the character’s life as a teenager through his 30’s but for “the 400 blows”, the film focuses on the life of a troubled teenager.
Although not based 100% on Director Francois Truffaut’s real life, a large part of the film was based on his troubled family life and in order for him to capture that life he had, he picked the right person with Jean-Pierre Leaud, an unknown actor (who was just as an antisocial loner) who was 13 and a half years old but had that rebellious nature that Truffaut found. A boy who would not have to learn a script but to use his his own words. This added to the realism of the film and what made this film so fantastic and engrossing just to watch.
Truffaut’s “the 400 blows” revolves around a troubled 14-year-old named Antoine Doinel. At school, Antoine is constantly in trouble. You can call him the class delinquent or the class clown but one day at school, a group of students were passing around a pinup of a woman in bikini. Antoine is the one who gets caught holding it and is therefore disciplined.
The only boy he truly gets along with is another boy (who also tends to get in trouble) named Rene (Patrick Auffay, which the character is based on Truffaut’s good friend Robert Lachenay who worked as an assistant on the film) and needless to say, the two boys could care less about their school work and would rather ditch class and have some fun.
When Antoine goes home, we see that he lives in an apartment that is now exactly well-kept. He wipes his dirty hands on the curtains, he steals money from his parents and as the film explores more of his personal life, we get to know that his parents do not make much money, he sleeps with tattered pajamas, but there are major issues with parental bond and the lack of his parents being there for him. His father is constantly working and his mother, Gilberte Doinel (Claire Maurier) is always hard on him and often cold. His father and mother are always arguing about something and thus we see how Antoine life has been problematic.
On the following day, as he was getting ready to go to school, he and Rene decide to ditch class and have some fun. While out with Rene, Antoine sees his mother with another man and learns his mother is having an affair. When he arrives home, he lies to his father about his day at school but keeps the affair of his mother to himself.
As the film progresses, we see how Antoine’s family and persona life continues to get complicated. As this young teenager would rather work than go to school. He really doesn’t have any major goals in his life but what he does have is cold parents when he’s home and an equally cold teacher when he’s at school. So, that is partially why we see Antoine so rebellious and why he does the things that he does. But eventually, we learn something deeper about Antoine and his family life and because that lack of family belonging, how he acts out because essentially there is no one else there for him but his friend Rene.
And when Antoine’s bad habits start to escalate, he will soon learn that he will need to take responsibility for his actions.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“the 400 blows” is presented in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ratio of 2:35:1. Black bars and the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format and the transfer is much different from the previous DVD release from Criterion years go as this was a high-definition digital transfer cared on a Spirit Datacine form a 35mm composite fine-gain master positive.
As with most Criterion Blu-ray releases, the company also had thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System. The picture quality, although in black and white, looks incredible for a film released back in 1959. Black are nice and deep but you can see a lot more detail in the surroundings.
Suffice to say, THE CRITERION COLLECTION releases films with how the director intended the film to be. There is no DNR (digital noise reduction) and no softness and the film keeps the grain and retains its film-like quality. The film just looks beautiful on Blu-ray!
As for audio, 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. The audio has an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. My Onkyo receiver received a multichannel signal (via bitstream) but overall, I did not select a monaural setting when watching the film but I found the dialog to be clear and understandable. Music by Jean Constantin was also also clear.
Subtitles are featured in English.
“the 400 blows” comes with the following special features:
- Audio commentary by cinema professor Brian Stonehill – Brian Stonehill’s audio commentary is very informative. This commentary was featured on the original Criterion DVD release and goes into depth about the themes of the film and overall, a solid commentary in which Stonehill also has included interviews with people involved with the film.
- Audio commentary by Francois Truffaut’s lifelong friend Robert Lachenay – Robert Lachenay is Antoine’s Rene. When they were younger, Truffaut’s parents thought he was the bad influence and vice versa. But these two remained friends for a long time and with Lachenay working as an assistant to the film, we learn about the comparisons of Antoine Doinel and Truffaut. Similarities and differences of what really happened in the life of Director Francois Truffaut.
- Audition footage of Jean-Pierre Leaud, Patrick Auffay and Richard Kanayan – (6:24) A short segment featuring rare 16mm screen tests the auditions for the main talents auditioning for the role of Antoine Doinel, Rene and one of the Les Enfants, Richard Kanayan (who appeared in Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player” in 1960).
- Cannes 1959 – (5:51) A short newsreel frim Francois Chalais and JacquesPlanche’s “Reflets de Cannes 1959” of Jean-Pierre Léaud as he goes to Cannes and is interviewed by press and the ovation the film received by the audience.
- Cineaste de notre temps – (22:26) This featurette is an excerpt from “Francois Truffaut ou l’espirit critique” episode from “Cineaste de Notre temps” which was shown in France back in December 2, 1965. Truffaut discusses his childhood, learning about his passion of watching films, his writing of Cahiers du cinema and the character of Antoine Doinel. The segment also features interviews with Jean-Pierre Léaud (Antoine), Albert Remy (father) and Claude de Givray (a friend of Truffaut who knew him when he was younger).
- Cinepanorama – (6:52)) An excerpt from the TV show “Cinepanorama” from February 20, 1960. The host France Roche interviews Director Francois Truffaut who was awarded for “Best Foreign Film” by the New York Film Critics Circle for “The 400 Blows”. Director Truffaut talks about how the films reception Internationally and about the film.
- Theatrical Trailer – (3:47) The original theatrical trailer for “the 400 blows””.
- An essay book from film scholar Annette Insdorf – A quad-fold booklet titled “Close to Home” with production credits on one side and a two page essay by Columbia University, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Film Studies, Annette Insdorf discussing the similarities of Antoine Dionel and Francois Truffaut. But also differences and the importance of some shots.
“the 400 blows” is one of those films that surprised me from beginning to end. It’s not that I haven’t seen classic films that seem realistic but I found the film quite enjoyable in the fact that the film really goes indepth in the life of a Parisian youth who does bad things but that the connection between bad/or lack of thereof, parenting can be to blame.
Jean-Pierre Léaud is simply fantastic as Antoine Doinel and that is because Director Francois Truffaut allows him to be himself. As Jean-Pierre Léaud has commented himself, he is very much like Antoine in some respects and he eventually puts his trust in Truffaut to capture his emotion and his focal point through the camera. If anything, to make this character come out alive and in that sense, Truffaut succeeds and Léaud is magnificent.
Claire Maurier (who plays Antoine’s mother Gilberte Doinel) is surprising in her role as a cold mother. She’s one of those mothers who has her life hampered with having a child but tries to live her free life as if she didn’t have a child. There is a strong disconnection between mother and son but how quickly she tries to change when her son catches her with another man. Claire Maurier does a fine job with her role. As with Albert Remy as Julien Doinel. The busy at work father who has more leeway towards Antoine but is not quick to be cold to his son like his mother. It’s just when the trust is broken between father and son, is when you see Julien having to do things that he doesn’t want to do and in essence becomes more like his wife.
There is a significant reveal at the end of the film of why Antoine does the things that he does but what the film does quite well at is showing how derelict parents can affect a child’s behavior. Letting a child to do what he wants and there are no responsibilities but taking out the garbage. There is no love in the family and thus, it has a cause and effect towards Antoine.
Truffaut is simply a legendary director for helping catapult the French New Wave. With its similarities to Western classic films and Italian Neorealism in terms of really depicting the life of the poor in France, Truffaut gives us a glimpse of what his life was like. How he watched films when he ditched from school and just his overall experiences and troubles he had endured. When he’s lying, he is treated badly at home and at school. When he’s telling the truth, there is no difference. And for any parent, this is a true injustice for a child who needs that motivation that they can prevail, that they are wanted and they can succeed. And unfortunately, that was not the case for Antoine at 14-years-old.
I give THE CRITERION COLLECTION another applause for their treatment of “the 400 blows”. Similar to a film like “THE SEVEN SAMURAI”, although once released, the company went back and gave it a new, restored High-Definition digital transfer with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
Another awesome release on Blu-ray from THE CRITERION COLLECTION and for those who have never had a taste of French New Wave films, “the 400 blows” is definitely a great film to start out with.
Note: For those who enjoy “The 400 Blows” will definitely want to check out Francois Truffaut’s films featuring Antoine Doinel in the DVD box set “The Adventures of Antoine Doinel” from THE CRITERION COLLECTION.
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