The 400 Blows Movie Poster Image

The 400 Blows

Landmark French drama of restless, troubled boyhood.
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Classic
  • Release Year: 1959
  • Running Time: 93 minutes

What parents need to know

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.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:November 16, 1959
DVD/Streaming release date:May 9, 2006
Cast:Albert Remy, Guy Decomble, Jean-Pierre Leaud
Director:Francois Truffaut
Studio:Criterion Collection
Run time:93 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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What parents and kids say

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Parent of a 17 year old Written bytman156 March 1, 2011

A truly incredible movie, appropriate for family viewing

Love this movie, it is the perfect movie for any child. Granted there is some bad behavior, so, make sure you have taught your child what right and what is wrong.
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't follow the mold of other French dramas at the time. The movie doesn't have that large a plot to be honest, it's really just the descent of young Antoine, who just can't seem to get his young life together. I wondered to myself when the movie was going to kick it into high gear and earn the 4 star rating it had on my DVR...but it never did it for me. As I suggest, it was probably revolutionary at the time for its themes of rebellion and its sometimes harsh cursing, especially for a 50s movie, but it's just a pretty good movie IMO.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written bySecondSider July 16, 2013

One word.

What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much consumerism