Saturday, August 3, 2013

Antoine and Colette

ANTOINE AND COLETTE               A-                   
France  (32 mi)  1962  ‘Scope  d:  François Truffaut

Preliminaries are over. Time to attack.                      —René (Patrick Auffay)

Shot in Black and White by Raoul Coutard, this is an utterly delightful film short (only 32-minutes) that opens a larger two-hour, omnibus, five-director feature called LOVE AT TWENTY (1962), all segments that deal with the romanticism of first love, made after the equally charming JULES AND JIM (1962), both of which have dark overtones.  The brief duration of this film only allows a quick, impressionistic glance at the progress of Antoine, who we quickly learn is no longer the brash and rebellious youth that we remember, but still in the throes of adolescence searching for his way.  Beginning with The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups) (1959), this is the second installment of The Adventures of Antoine Doinel, a vaguely Proustian autobiographical recollection of Truffaut’s own adolescent childhood, as seen through the eyes of his fictional alter-ego Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud), sharing many of the same childhood experiences, a series that reveals the extraordinary qualities of ordinary situations, where Truffaut allows his actors plenty of freedom to improvise and make the characters their own, concluding “actors are always more important than the characters they portray,” where by the third adventure, Stolen Kisses (Baisers volés) (1968), Truffaut moves away from his own life and begins writing more for Léaud.  While Truffaut didn’t have such a horrible childhood, in that he wasn’t battered or abused, but he was emotionally neglected, especially by his mother, which is perhaps most responsible for Antoine’s early age of delinquency and exile, leaving him in a state of isolation that helps explain what he truly needs, which is to be loved and appreciated.  It’s ironic, then, that Antoine’s journey would take him into such an intimate exploration of themes such as inadequacy, failure and despair.  And while Truffaut returns to Antoine throughout his career, always portrayed by the differing ages of the same actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, much like the Michael Apted Up-series, he also uses footage from earlier films, interacting with past memories, cleverly incorporating the past into the present, bringing a historical perspective into the entirety of one’s life.     

While it may prove to be a meaningless exercise to review a single Antoine film, as they are all interconnected and comprise an entire lifetime, not just isolated stages, it’s perhaps more interesting to think of Antoine as someone we grew up with, as Léaud was 14 when he made The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups), and 34 when he made the final installment Love On the Run (L'amour en fuite) (1979), so while the films are spread out over 20 years of the actor’s life, the public has also grown familiar with other Truffaut films made during the same period.  Despite his prolific acting career for more than half a century, Léaud has never distanced himself from the role, as it’s as much a part of his identity as the writer and director, which makes this one of the most intimately personal autobiographical journeys that exists in cinema.  Perhaps the one area where Truffaut’s life and Antoine’s merge is their obsession with women, where despite being married, Truffaut had a habit of falling in love with his leading ladies, as he does here, where during the making of the film he had a brief romance with Marie-France Pisier as Colette, the object of Antoine’s affections when she was only 17.  An amateur at the time, not only does she steal the film, she went on to star in films for the next half century, subsequently sharing screenwriting credits with Jacques Rivette for his enthrallingly inventive film Céline and Julie Go Boating (Céline et Julie vont ... (1974).  What might seem surprising is Antoine’s gentler, more compliant character, turned somewhat tentative in nature, where he’s now a dutifully obedient citizen of the bourgeoisie running around in a sportcoat and tie mostly isolated from other kids his own age and seemingly more at ease in the world of adults.  Told in a realist manner, with an introductory documentary-style narrator that speaks in a dry, emotionless voice, we are quickly reacquainted with Antoine’s circumstances, as at age 17, he has his own apartment in Paris and is supporting himself with a job working in a record factory.  In parallel with the narration, the music of Bach plays throughout the film, a reflection of Antoine’s love of classical music.   

While both actor and director display a love of Paris and a deep attachment to music, the subject of the film is obsessive first love, an upsetting part of Truffaut’s life in the early 50’s, where at 17 he developed an infatuation with Lilliane Latvin, who he met at the cinema, becoming so distraught that after a failed suicide attempt he enlisted in the military afterwards to forget her, only to desert after a few months, where his discharge interview is chronicled in humiliating detail in Stolen Kisses (Baisers volés) (1968).  According to Truffaut, “It was inevitable that Antoine Doinel would seize the first opportunity to fall desperately in love.”  Antoine, along with his best friend René (Patrick Auffay) from The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups) regularly attend classical Youth Concerts, which often include lectures.  It’s here that he first lays eyes on Colette, staring at her across the aisle to the music of Berlioz, developing a fixation on wanting to be with her.  While she’s friendly enough, though still a student in high school, they meet regularly for other concerts as well, but Antoine needs to know where she is all the time, absurdly moving to a new hotel location right across the street.  While Colette has other interests and a group of friends that we never see, her parents take an immediate interest in Antoine because he’s already working and supporting himself.  Often when Colette is not home, they invite him in and are happy to lavish praise and attention on the young man, actually encouraging Colette to go out with him, where in the end Antoine spends more time with her parents than with Colette.  That may be the kiss of death, however, that and Antoine’s own blundering display of deplorable manners in what has to be one of the worst kisses in screen history.  But despite his strategy to overwhelm her in love, which includes love letters and repeated visits to her door, Colette remains a free-spirited and independent woman with more on her mind than Antoine.  His need to dominate her literally drives her away, where he is scarred by his need for an absolute and all-consuming love. The end is a bittersweet montage of still photographs set to a song “Love at Twenty” Antoine et Colette ending (Truffaut) - YouTube (1:03), showing young lovers kissing or holding hands in different locations of Paris, on the streets, in the parks, or along the River Seine, becoming a poetic and melancholic ode to a wistful remembrance of love.   

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