In the beginning, it was the story of a boy who lacks the courage to return home after playing truant and thus spends the night wandering around Paris; then, a bit at a time, it transformed into a sort of portrait of the life of a 13-year-old (which is the most interesting age, I think). […] The idea had been buzzing around my head for a long time. Adolescence is a way of being recognised by teachers and sociologists but rejected by family and parents. […] I also had a lively school-life, but not all of Les 400 coups is autobiographical, even if it is all true. Whether those adventures happened to me or to someone else is irrelevant; the essential thing is that somebody lived them.
François Truffaut, interviewed by Yvonne Baby, “Le Monde”, 21 April 1959
With Les 400 coups, Truffaut enters both modern cinema and the classrooms of our childhood. Bernanos’s humiliated children. Vitrac’s children in power. Melville-Cocteau’s enfants terribles. Vigo’s children, Rossellini’s children, in a word, Truffaut’s children – a phrase which will become common usage as soon as the film comes out. Soon people will say Truffaut’s children as they say Bengal Lancers, spoilsports, Mafia chiefs, roadhogs, or again in a word, cinema-addicts. In Les 400 Coups, the director of Les Mistons will again have his camera, not up there with the men like Old Man Hawks, but down among the children. If a certain arrogance is implied in talking about ‘up there’ for the over-thirties, ‘down there’ should also be taken as implying pride in the under-sixteens: Les 400 Coups will be the proudest, stubbornest, most obstinate, in other words most free, film in the world. Morally speaking. Aesthetically, too. Henri Decaë’s Dyaliscope images will dazzle us like those of Tarnished Angels. The scenario will be fresh and airy like that of Crazed Fruit. The dialogue and gestures as caustic as those in Baby Face Nelson. The editing as delicate as that of The Goddess. Precocity will reveal its cloven hoof as in The Lefthanded Gun. These titles do not spring at random from the keys of my electric typewriter. They come from François Truffaut’s list of the ten best films of 1958. A charming and handsome family into which Les 400 Coups fits beautifully. To sum up, what shall I say? This: Les 400 Coups will be a film. Signed Frankness. Rapidity. Art. Novelty. Cinematograph. Originality. Impertinence. Seriousness. Tragedy. Renovation. Ubu-Roi. Fantasy. Ferocity. Affection. Universality. Tenderness.
Jean-Luc Godard, “Cahiers du Cinéma”, n. 92, February 1959, translated by Tom Milne in Cahiers du Cinéma. The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave, edited by Jim Hillier, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1985
Cast and Credits
Sog.: François Truffaut. Scen.: François Truffaut, Marcel Moussy. F.: Henri Decaë. M.: Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte. Scgf.: Bernard Evein. Mus.: Jean Constantin. Int.: Jean-Pierre Léaud (Antoine Doinel), Claire Maurier (la signora Doinel), Albert Remy (il signor Doinel), Guy Decomble (il professore), Patrick Auffay (René Bigey), Georges Flamant (il signor Bigey), Yvonne Claudie (la signora Bigey), Robert Beauvais (il preside). Prod.: Georges Charlot per Les Films du Carrosse/SEDIF. DCP. Bn.
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Music composed and directed by Maud Nelissen, performed by The Sprockets:
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