French director, François Truffaut made his first full-length feature film, The 400 Blows in 1959. It tells the story of Antoine Doinel, a restless teenager played by Jean-Pierre Léaud. Antoine lives with his mother and stepfather in a small apartment on the outskirts of Paris. Listless and bored at school, he is often scolded by teachers. His family also can’t seem to understand his troubles.
His only friend is René, a schoolmate with whom he spends most of his time. One day, while skipping school to go to the movies, the two end up wandering the city. When Antoine sees his mother kissing a stranger, he is deeply upset. The next day, he justifies his absence from school by claiming that his mother has died.
When Antoine’s lie is discovered, he decides to run away from home, spending the night on the streets of Paris. When he returns home the next day, Antoine’s mother treats him warmly and promises him a gift if he gets a good grade on a composition does at school. Antoine copies parts a novel by Balzac. He is be found out by his teacher, who reproaches him in front of the class.
After taking refuge at his friend René’s house, he decides to steal his stepfather’s typewriter to sell it. The scheme doesn’t work. Antoine is caught when he decides to return the typewriter. Taken to the police, Antoine spends the night in jail and is later taken to a reformatory.
There, discipline is rigid and the boy undergoes repeated questioning by a psychologist. During a soccer game, Antoine manages to run away from the reformatory. He crosses a few fields and reaches the sea. The 400 Blows shows the challenges faced by a 13-year old who clashes with the rigid, unfeeling adult world.
Sincere and direct, Truffaut’s movie was one of the first works of the Nouvelle Vague, or new wave, a movement to breathe new life into film. The 400 Blows was applauded by critics, earning Truffaut the best director award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival.