Favourite Film: Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows)

Francois Truffaut’s Les Quatre cents coups achieved both great critical acclaim and commercial success upon its release in 1959 through its moving depiction of the transition from childhood into the adult world. The hardships of the protagonist Antoine Doinel are depicted with a poignant sympathy using a simple, yet innovative narrative.
The circumstances of Doinel’s unhappy home life is subtly shown through a compilation of individual scenes that help create the overall impression of Doinel’s alienation from not only his family, but also his surrounding society. For example, the only time that Doinel is acknowledged within his family is when somebody requires him to do chores. Doinel is continually getting into trouble outside the home and instead of finding understanding from his family, he is the subject of disappointment and recrimination. No longer a place of altruistic compassion and selfless love, the family is emblematic of the social transformation taking place where such values are being eroded amidst the utilitarian ethos of post-war France. This attitude pervades the adult authority figures in the film – they see Doinel as a hopeless case, a deviant, while ignoring the humanity that lies at the character’s core. Meanwhile, the audience acquires sympathy for Doinel through intimate scenes that show his love for Balzac or his fascination with the cinema.
The film’s powerfully earnest exposition of the individual in conflict with society magnificently expresses Truffaut’s ability to combine larger social themes with an intimate, character-driven narrative. Les Quatre cents coups’ achieves its sublime influence by acknowledging the secret knowledge that we all possess about ourselves, but feel escapes the outside world. Doinel’s life is as much about the disintegration of humanistic values within post-war France as it is about the failure of the individual to find recognition and worth on his or her own terms.