The 400 Blows

Les 400 coups

François Truffaut, France, 1959


This is a very strange scene: we see Antoine, the film’s central character, and his friend René at a puppet show with a little girl, who is unknown to us and about whom we won’t have any further information. The film-maker then seems to abandon both the fiction and the characters completely to immerse us in the heart of the puppet show. Alternating between shots of the show itself and shots on the children’s staring faces, he stops the construction of his fiction to produce a documentary on the effects of a puppet show on children. They don’t know they are being filmed, or if they do, they don’t pay any attention to it. The camera isolates groups, and shares their emotions of excitement and fear, amongst others, with us which makes us nearly forget about the aim of the film, as we are captivated by their facial expressions, their copying of the action, their shouts. The return to fiction is done through close-ups on Antoine and René, who watch the show absentmindedly, but seem indifferent to it, taken by their own conversation and main worry - finding money. Truffaut’s arrangement of setting up a direct coexistence between reality and fiction doesn’t come for free. Alternating between the two characters’ and the children’s reaction (who don’t act and are totally held by the reality of the puppet show) highlights the tragic offset between the two realities: one the one hand, that of the two teenagers’, who are too old for the show but too young to be adults, and who take a serious decision with such a degree of recklessness that it will change their future – the action of stealing a typewriter; and, on the other hand, the children’s reality, they who are completely enchanted by the performance there in front of them, and who truly experience the fear of a wolf sock puppet.