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The Criterion Collection presents
The 400 Blows (Blu-ray) (1959)

"Oh, I lie now and then, I suppose. Sometimes I'd tell them the truth and they still wouldn't believe me, so I prefer to lie."
- Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: March 23, 2009

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

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:39m:20s
Release Date: March 24, 2009
UPC: 715515042413
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AAA- B

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 Jean-Pierre Léaud, for whom playing Antoine became a lifelong pursuit) at least in part on his own childhood.

Antoine 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 her son. They barely know their own child (though they live together in a ridiculously cramped flat), and aren't willing to sacrifice their own lives to deal with his.

Antoine is intelligent and introspective, a fan of Balzac—his school desk even hides a shrine to the famous author—but he's labeled a troublemaker by his teacher, but he seems more the victim of bad luck rather than any true malicious intent, unconsciously plagiarizing Balzac (who likewise had difficulty adapting to the rigid rules of grammar school) 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 trying to return it and put in 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 Antoine, if he's lucky, may 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 (it's telling that 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

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: One of Criterion's earliest DVD releases, The 400 Blows has gone out of print and been re-issed a few times. Early editions had their flaws (the non-anamorphic Criterion, the misframed Fox Lorber), while the box set edition was very nice indeed, but this Blu-ray is the new reference point.

The widescreen black-and-white image is crisper and more detailed than ever before. Enhanced detail means more visible film grain, but the effect is pleasingly cinematic—none of the digital sheen that can result when DVNR is used to lessen grain. Contrast is excellent, with shadow detail that gives the image greater depth than on standard DVD. The print shows only very minor damage.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchno


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono mix has been cleaned up and presented uncompressed. The result is probably about the best this movie can sound. Speech and music are markedly clearer and crisper than I've ever heard them.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by film historian Brian Stonehill; lifelong friend of Truffaut Robert Lachenay
Packaging: Cardboard Tri-Fold
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The Blu-ray ports over all of the 400 Blows-specific extras featured in Criterion's lovely Antoine Doinel "suitcase" collection. I have copied the following from our review of that release; the only difference is that all of the extras are presented in HD.

The 1992 commentary by Professor Brian Stonehill from the original DVD (and the laserdisc) is ported over in its entirety and provides an entertaining and not-too-dry comment on the technical and historical aspects of the film. A second commentary features Robert Lachenay, Truffaut's boyhood friend (and assistant director), personified in the film as Antoine's school chum, René Bigey. He has an intriguing combination of knowledge of the underlying facts as well as the actual making of the film that makes his commentary highly valuable for fans and students of the New Wave.

But that's not all by a long shot. We also see six minutes of audition footage, including Léaud's and that of several other boys who wound up in various roles. Newsreel footage (5m:40s) of the Cannes festival of 1959 provides an interesting little interview with the precocious Léaud, who also appears in a 1965 television program centering on Truffaut (22m:23s). Finally, there is a segment from a 1960 episode of Cinepanorama with still more footage of Truffaut discussing the reception of the picture, his thoughts on Bardot and his difficulties with the Spanish censors. There's also a long trailer.

The cardboard packaging follows other Criterion Blus (still not a huge fan), and houses an essay by critic Annette Insdorf.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

A "revered classic" that has lost none of its vibrancy, The 400 Blows demands to be seen in the best presentation possible. This is it. The film has been very well treated on DVD, but the Blu-ray is an essential upgrade.

 


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