The 400 Blows

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
The 400 Blows Movie Poster Image
Landmark French drama of restless, troubled boyhood.
  • NR
  • 1959
  • 93 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Though strong-willed and independent, Antoine is neither a "good" nor a "bad" boy, and definitely does things that are not to be imitated, like stealing and running away from home. While he seldom intentionally hurts people, he seems to be missing a sense of right and wrong in pursuit of his own goals -- when Antoine copies a paper in his homework to get a much-desired good grade, he does it so flagrantly that you wonder if he even has any awareness that he's cheating. Mothers, fathers, teachers, and authority figures are generally shown as impatient, distracted, and ill-equipped for guidance. Only other boys in the peer-group seem to exhibit loyalty and true friendship with each other.


Antoine is slapped once.


A husband playfully grabs his wife's (fully clothed) breasts. The boy hero is asked by a psychologist if he's had sex (he replies frankly no, but some friends of his have). Mention of out-of-wedlock pregnancy.


"S--t" and "a--hole" appear in some subtitled translations.


References made to mid-century French films, books, and diversions, likely to be lost on modern audiences.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking


Much smoking in young Antoine's family, and the boy himself surreptitiously rolls his own handmade cigarettes. Underage drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the 12-year-old boy at the center of this French-language drama is a budding juvenile delinquent who lies, steals, smokes, swears (in subtitles), and repeatedly runs away from home. The plain, unsentimental filmmaking style neither condemns nor glorifies his misdeeds, and there are no easy solutions offered, with an especially big question mark at the end. The parents in the film are depicted as ineffective, and Antoine's mother in particular is an adulterous, immature type. A psychological interrogation briefly brings up topics of sex and abortion. Viewers dying to know what happens to Antoine after the final scene can track the same character's young adulthood in several subsequent Francois Truffaut movies.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 16 and 18+-year-old Written byCCV2015 October 15, 2020

3 Stars by today's standards

Based on what I have read about the film, I'm sure when this was made it was worthy of 5 stars.

By current standards it had:
• no positive messages
• no... Continue reading
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 August 13, 2014

I'm sure it was striking for its time

After some research into this film to see why it's considered a classic, I realized it was a highly autobiographical film of the director, and that it didn... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bySecondSider July 16, 2013

One word.

Teen, 14 years old Written byBrandon4News December 20, 2010

My all-time favorite!!!


What's the story?

THE 400 BLOWS is considered a classic in portraying a pained and turbulent male adolescence. Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is a trouble-prone 12-year-old Paris schoolboy, often left unsupervised while both his mother and his stepfather work at separate jobs. While his stepdad seems okay, his pretty mother (who, Antoine realizes, is having an affair with her boss) is less than maternal. Antoine doesn't seem much worse-behaved than his schoolmates, but he's always the one getting caught at wrongdoing, and his defiance spirals into skipping school, thieving, and running away from home. Finally, after trying both loving and strict approaches, the parents give up on Antoine and send him to a camp for juvenile delinquents. In a dialogue with a state psychologist, Antoine reveals, matter-of-factly, that his mother never even wanted him -- that she nearly sought an abortion until being talked out of it by Antoine's grandmother.

Is it any good?

This movie's excellent, though a bit heavy for younger kids. In his memoir The Film Club, writer David Gilmour tells how he tried to make his own teen son sit through The 400 Blows; the boy would only do it if he got to watch the softcore "erotic thriller" Basic Instinct as a reward -- practically an Antoine Doinel moment right there. The Francois Truffaut classic (the illustrious filmmaker's first feature, drawing upon events from his own early life) is revered by older critics like Gilmour even though its virtues might be harder to appreciate for 21st-century kids, who have seen their alienation, school violence, and family dysfunction dramatized much more graphically than did audiences of 1959 (Truffaut doesn't even use that easy symbol of rebellion, rock-and-roll music).

Still, there is quiet power in the stoic way Antoine confronts life's challenges and never sheds a tear despite his seemingly disastrous choices. While not self-pitying, Antoine seems sensitized to the idea that he's all on his own -- that lot of inexperienced parents have kids when they shouldn't, and he is one of the casualties. Returning to collaborate with actor Jean-Pierre Leaud over the years, Truffaut made series of movies, both short subjects and features, following Doinel through manhood and his own bittersweet, failed marriage. These are also on DVD, though not as easy to find as The 400 Blows.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether Antoine Doinel is really a "good" boy or an incorrigible "delinquent." Could have made better choices in life, given his environment and upbringing? Ask kids what they might have done in Antoine's place, or if they know anyone like him. Generations of critics have called this one of the best and most insightful films ever made about boyhood. Agree? Disagree? Students of the French language and culture could take home some lessons from the settings, dialogues, and literary references (such as Balzac).

Movie details

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