Comfortable and Furious

The 400 Blows

A documentary on Madonna’s rise through the music industry? Actually, The 400 blows is a French colloquialism that means something like, “indulging in every possible vice.” It’s also one of the films that started the French New Wave.

When evaluating an innovative film like this one, you have to ask the question of whether it should be viewed in the context of the time in which it was released or as if it had just been released yesterday. To me, most of the innovations of the 400 blows (see the evaluation of the commentary for something on what those innovations are) are abstract. They’ve been emulated in hundreds of films I had seen before I saw The 400 Blows and I cannot make myself see them as innovations when I watch it. I can understand the historical significance of these innovations, but the novelty has long sense worn off. I cannot have the experience of being blown away by this “new” approach film making, so why pretend otherwise?

I can have the experience of being blown away by the dramatic power and realism of this simple, brilliantly executed story. This film has quiet power, which is to say that there are no tragic deaths staged to sappy orchestral pieces, and not even anything like the great sledgehammer moments in Bergman’s films. There is no point at which this film says to the viewer “love this kid” or “cringe at what is happening.” The film simply presents content that is so true that our reaction comes without cues. The documentary quality of the film may no longer seem novel, but it has never been done better.

Credit for this goes primarily to Trufaut’s writing and directing. But we are also treated to great acting, including one of the great performances from a kid by Leaud, probably even better than Halley Joe in The Sixth Sense. 400 Blows is a great film, regardless of the context in which it is viewed.

DVD Extras

The commentary by Glenn Kenny of Premiere magazine is pretty good, depending on who is listening to it. It’s where I got the info about the meaning of “the 400 blows” and it’s full of such information, –the sort of stuff you would already know if you were very knowledgeable about French film or Trufaut. For those of us who admire this film and the French New Wave generally, but are lacking in fancy book learnin’ on the subject, the commentary is quite informative. For example, Kenny discusses what made the new wave so new, most importantly, the frank depiction of material that we now take for granted in art house films, from the use of profanity to the presentation of characters without a varnish of sentimentality or romanticism.

Ruthless Ratings

  • Film Overall: 9.5
  • Direction: 10
  • Acting: 9
  • Story: 9
  • DVD Goodies: 7
  • Re-watchability: 8



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