When the film The 400 Blows reaches its first schoolhouse scene, there is a sense of innocent mischief that grips the room. A particular boy, Antoine, gets in trouble and is told to stand in the corner. A normal occurrence for the child, no doubt; he seems to already know the routine like the back of his hand.
By this point, the audience has already determined Antoine’s taste for rebellion. What the audience hasn’t determined yet is the complex nature of Antoine’s life and relationships with those around him. In film, child characters often serve as a glorified prop, only used to propel the story or provide motivation to another character. In The 400 Blows, Antoine has a mind and life of his own that existed before the events of the film and will certainly exist after; he has a depth of realism to him, a character you can visualize in our own world.
The scene from the image above involves Antoine discussing his life with an offscreen therapist or psychologist; it is interesting for a few reasons. First, the placement of the camera and decision to keep the therapist offscreen puts us in the role of therapist – and we must create our own conclusion and judgement from the information given. Secondly, the acting style in the scene can be described as off-the-cuff or improvisational. This lends a certain credence to his words, as they don’t seem planned or artificial; in a word, it feels natural.
Last but not least, the content of the dialogue. The winding path that has led Antoine to this point is made clear by what he says in this scene. From the psychological abuse by his mother to the brief stint in the foster care system, it becomes clear that Antoine is a complicated product of his environment. He has baggage spanning years, creating an oldness in his soul that cannot quite be expressed by his young mind and body. His actions throughout the film begin to make more and more sense; his quickness to run away stems from his long battered history and him already being used to feeling alone. His innocence has been stripped from him, but his life must continue.