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Great Blu-Ray version of a true classic
on May 7, 2009
This review is for the Blu-Ray edition.
The 400 Blows is directed by Francois Truffaut. The film stars Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, and Guy Decomble.
The 400 Blows is the first major film directed by Francois Truffaut, formerly a film critic known for his brutally-honest reviews. The film, based loosely on Truffaut's childhood, follows the story of Antoine Doinel, a young man in his early teens. His life is a mess - he's frequently getting into trouble in school, his parents fight all the time and are hard on him, he lives in a low-income household, and to make things even worse, discovers that his mother is having an affair with a co-worker. He tries to make ends meet, but nothing seems to work. The film is the story of this young man's struggle in society, and the consequences that befall him.
Truffaut's first major feature film is also his finest. With the film he creates believable characters, and a true-to-life story that anyone who has ever been young will be able to relate to. The movie runs a brisk 100 minutes, and never outstays its welcome. Every second feels authentic.
The characters and the actors who portray them make this film their own. The obvious stand-out actor his a young Jean-Pierre Leaud, who stars as Antoine Doinel. Truffaut created the character has a version of himself at a younger age, which may be the reason that director and actor alike are able to make this character so three-dimensional and be lievable. If you've ever been young, you'll be able to relate to Leaud in this role. Who amongst us hasn't hated a teacher in school, gotten in trouble, and been hollered out by our parents? And unlike other rebellious youngsters of the era captured on film, Antoine doesn't use violence to rebel, or talk back to his superiors. He wants to be free, but he obviously doesn't want to hurt or offend anyone in his life, which makes him all the more a sympathetic, tragic figure who learns the hard way that freedom isn't free.
The 400 Blows won audiences over at Cannes way back in 1959. Half a century later, its message is as strong as ever. A brilliant piece of cinema that manages to be believable throughout its duration, it's no wonder Truffaut became hailed as one of France's finest filmmakers. With this film, he launched the French New Wave and hundreds of imitators. There's no denying it - this is one of the greatest films ever made.
All in all, The 400 Blows looks pretty damn good in 1080p. This isn't a leaps-and-bounds improvement over Criterion's most recent standard-def disc, but there are noticeable improvements, and it definitely looks better on a large HDTV screen than the normal DVD does. The image is clear and detailed throughout (I was able to pick out details I couldn't see on SD and read some text that was unreadable on the original DVD), it definitely looks better than I expected for a film this old. My only complaint is that there are a few scenes in which the grain level tends to spike. However, this is a very minor complaint, and it certainly doesn't detract from enjoyment of the film. This isn't the best-looking black and white film I've seen on Blu (Casablanca still holds that honor), but it's definitely in the upper tier. Dialogue is presented in the original French Mono, and the track has been beautifully remastered and is free of any annoying pops or hisses. Needless to say, English subtitles are included. Criterion knows how to do faithful transfers right for classic films, and this Blu-Ray Disc is proof. Their transfer here has me looking forward to 1080p transfers of other vintage foreign/classic films.
As if the gorgeous transfer wasn't good enough, Criterion has included plenty of bonus material as well .. In addition to the obligatory booklet the company includes with their releases (in this case it contains an essay, well worth reading), there are some interesting featurettes included on this disc. We get to see an interview with Jean-Pierre Leaud about his opinions of the film and acting, a French television program episode on film directors that focuses on Truffaut, as well as two commentaries and rare audition footage. When Criterion releases a movie, they almost always put out the definitive edition. This release of The 400 Blows proves that will be true for their Blu-Ray releases as well.
The 400 Blows is that rare century-old movie whose message is as powerful today as it has ever been. With brilliant direction by Truffaut and a great performance from a young Jean-Pierre Le aud, this is the definitive film from the French New Wave. And once again, Criterion delivers the goods on Blu-Ray. One of the greatest films ever made with a great presentation on blu-ray, The 400 Blows gets my highest recommendation. If you only see one dramatic foreign-language film in your life, this is the one to see.