The ending of The 400 Blows is significant due to the unexpected ways with which it breaks the fourth wall, bringing the audience into direct confrontation with Antoine as the camera suddenly exits a plan d’ensemble to zoom into his confused gaze. Perhaps many conventional film critics would disapprove of this freeze-frame in believing that cinema entitles them to closure, but I argue that not-knowing is a resolution of its kind—the end of the beginning of a new chapter in a natural continuation of this one.
When a motion picture turns into a screenshot, the plot is filtered from connecting A and B to a point in time between A and B. Following this logic, the biggest difference between cinema and photography is the latter’s inability to depict a full story. Consequently, we as audience use our imagination to fill in gaps of uncertainty where truth is withheld. Indeed, as a film that debuts the French New Wave, The 400 Blows embodies one important element—trust in the audience.
Specifically, Truffaut has faith that we can envision a denouement with the pattern of destiny he has already laid—that Antoine somehow always winds up punished for every little transgression—for the audience to make an educated guess. The firm further shows the inescapable detention imposed on other children who run away to foreshadow what will happen to Antoine once he gets caught.
Since authorism is another central theme to the French New Wave, we must view The 400 Blows in the context of Truffaut’s filmmaking as a whole. The character of Antoine is closely modelled after Truffaut’s own tragic childhood. He too experienced desert from irresponsibly selfish parents, as François’ mother wanted to abort him the same way that Antoine’s mother did. Both were eventually deterred from doing so by their own mothers.
Therefore, there is a tinge of autobiography in this apparently fictional production, as traces of François’ own reality become undeniably evident. The freeze-frame itself is an encapsulation of such oxymoron, for to restore realism, actors are supposed to pretend that the camera does not exist. In this case, Antoine stares right into the camera as if he was made aware that he is no longer performing a role, but telling his story in a documentary-style footage.
By merging Antoine with himself, Truffaut seems to allude that the trajectory of his character’s life will follow his footsteps, meaning that Antoine will either be destroyed by a society that fails to understand him, or find refuge in an activity that could safeguard his individuality. For François, such activity took the form of cinephilia, where under the help of his god-father André Bazin, to whom The 400 Blows was dedicated, François found an universe of his own by critiquing and eventually directing films.