Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Love On the Run (L'amour en fuite)

LOVE ON THE RUN (L'amour en fuite)     B             
France  (94 mi)  1979  d:  François Truffaut

Caresses photographed on my sensitive skin
You can dump ’m all, moments, pictures, what you will
There’s always transparent adhesive tape
To square all those torments back into shape

We were that splendid shot: the smart lovers
We set up home, happiness for two, yeah right
Soon enough shards cut and gash and blood spurts
There goes the crockery on the tiled floor

We, we, we didn’t make it
Peewee, tears down your cheek
We part and there’s nothing we can explain
It’s love on the run
Love on the run

I slept, a child came up in lace frills
Away, then back, then shifty, that’s the swallows’ drill
Hardly have I moved in I leave the two-room flat
Whatever your name is, Lily, Clare or Brad

All my life is a running after things that won’t stay put
Sweet-scented girls, roses, posies of tears
My mother also put behind her ear
A drop of something that smelled just the same

—Alain Souchon, L'Amour en fuite (Love On the Run), L'amour En Fuite (Love On The Run) - L'amour En Fuite - YouTube (3:33)

In the concluding episode of the 5-film Antoine Doinel series, very much a complexly conceived, character driven saga that immerses you in the character’s fleeting thoughts and memories, what’s immediately apparent is the use of flashback sequences, which, with few exceptions, are little more than edited footage from the earlier films, while adding a new thread that combines several of the characters.  While all the other films play perfectly well when viewed alone, as these were never originally planned as a series, this is the only one that deliberately contains the connecting threads of the four previous films.  If separated over time, as these films were made in an era prior to DVD videos, where the only way you could see these films was in theatrical screenings that would likely be spread out over time, and not necessarily in order, where you literally live with the characters in your head for years, so the audience probably appreciated the effort made by the director to combine elements of all the previous stories, bringing the viewer up to date on the latest developments of Antoine Doinel’s storied life.  But if viewed in succession, very much in tune with the modern approach, this feels like an unnecessary recap of events, heavy on the recurring film clips, nearly twenty minutes in a 94-minute film, which only feel redundant.  Outside of the heartbreakingly fierce originality of Jean-Pierre Léaud’ s child performance in the original The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups) (1959), one of the single most compelling characters of the entire series has always been the assured maturity and remarkable independence of Marie-France Pisier as Colette in Antoine and Colette (1962).  By now a co-writer with director Jacques Rivette of Céline and Julie Go Boating (Céline et Julie vont ... (1974), one of the most uniquely creative films ever made, Pisier is also a co-writer and featured star of this film as well, albeit 17-years later.  It’s interesting that she has aged in parallel fashion alongside Antoine and has become a respectable lawyer.  What Pisier has always brought to the table was a dominating personality, where she’s actually been more interesting to watch than the rather feeble exploits of Antoine, who since the rebellious first film has largely drifted through his life as a dawdler and a daydreamer.       

It would be fair to say that the earliest first three films through Stolen Kisses (Baisers volés) (1968) represent the most intensely autobiographical period, where the predominate themes explored are a result of Truffaut’s own dysfunctional family experience, where his missing father and indifferent mother gave him the impetus to revolt from authority and run away from the trouble that always seemed to follow, where he never seems capable of taking responsibility or sustaining a committed and loving relationship.  Oscillating between elation and despair, he continues to idealize women, most likely something that developed from his voracious reading habits as a child, where the lack of role models in his own life, getting expelled from several schools, furthering his social isolation, and the need for both his missing mother and the woman of his dreams left him most desperately in need of being loved, where often the only place he could find worthy representatives was conjuring up images in his imagination from the works of fiction that he read.  It is this sense of rebellious outsiderism that most interests us about the young Antoine, a young man who has difficulty finding his place in the world, who lacks the social graces, whose youthful exuberance makes him wildly excited about an idea only to forget about it a short time later, whose loneliness is so deeply etched in his personality that he becomes an actor in public continually guarding his inner feelings, often expressed through a clownish humor, where Jean-Pierre Léaud is perfectly emblematic of that restless cauldron of anxiety assigned to protect his deepest unrest, where in his mind he always sees a way for everything to work out perfectly, but when confronted face to face with reality, his mind works simultaneously in forward and reverse, having difficulty with the present, as he’s a poor substitute for what he had in mind, often making a fool of himself with aggressively inappropriate behavior, driving away the very thing he’d hoped would offer him salvation.  In place of the real love he hungers for, he becomes something of an emotional thief, thriving on the affections of others, ingeniously creating circumstances of momentary bliss, stealing kisses, quick sexual excursions, forgotten promises of love in the night, and any other means to attract attention, either the good kind or the bad kind, where he would forever remain important and significant, and most of all alive.    
Once Antoine gets involved in a marriage with Christine (Claude Jade) in Bed & Board (Domicile conjugal) (1970), a woman Truffaut actually fell in love with and even got engaged, but never married, she is portrayed in the series as a virtuous girl that remained a virgin up until her marriage, but can’t put up with Antoine’s practice of deceit and philandering ways, yet she still loves him and demonstrates saintly patience (as projected by Truffaut), even as she can’t live with him anymore.  Five years after their marriage, now in his thirties, they are finally getting a divorce, where sitting outside the judge’s chambers both of them flash back to earlier moments in their relationship, where often one can’t tell what the other is thinking, but the audience is fully aware.  In this way, it allows us to see not only Antoine’s reflections, but also those of his young loves as they work their way through adolescence.  Antoine also has a new love, Sabine (Dorothee, a French TV personality), who we see in the opening scene, a bright and optimistic spirit that works as a clerk in a record store, who doesn’t put up with Antoine’s dour and melancholy mood swings, as she has a constantly sunny disposition, effecting the outcome of the second book he’s writing:  “Because of you, I’ve changed my ending.  No suicide, the hero opts to live.”  She wants Antoine to move in with her, but he won’t even keep a razor at her place.  As a character (Pisier) later observes, “Same old Doinel.”  His situation is exacerbated by a chance meeting with Colette, where he immediately swoons at the opportunity to meet with her again, where she’s been reading his book, Les Salades de L'amour (Love and Other Problems), but once again, as before, she sets him straight, rejecting an impulsive kiss, reminding him that “It takes two to kiss!” and that he’s learned nothing, as relationships are more than “disappointments, arguments, and break ups,” telling him “You have a strange concept of relationships, all you care about is boy meets girl.  Once they’re a couple, for you it’s all downhill.”  In this final film, Antoine has never been more impatient and ill-tempered, always in a foul mood, spending his time whining and complaining about what a hurry he’s in and has no patience for anyone else, where all he really thinks about is himself.

Doinel is always on the run, always late, always a man in a hurry; the notion of flight is to be understood in every possible sense: time flying, always being projected into the future, always anxious (never content!), never calm, and also love flying out the window. . . also flight in movement; however much you try to flee from your problems they're always right behind you, pursuing you, etc.
—François Truffaut, in a letter to popular singer Alain Souchon, who sings the film's title song 

But we learn the backdrop of how he met Sabine, finding a ripped up photograph of her left behind in a telephone booth, vowing to find her and love her forever, like a hunt for a treasure chest, or the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  Besides the interesting side story of meeting Colette, where even 17-years later, Marie-France Pisier continues to dance circles around a continually befuddled Jean-Pierre Léaud, Antoine incredibly experiences a visit from Monsieur Lucien (Julien Bertheau), like an apparition from the past, last seen kissing his mother on the street (by a different actor, Jean Douchet) when he was only 14, becoming perhaps the only character other than Antoine to appear in both the first and last episodes outside of flashback sequences.  As her most devout lover, Lucien adds fertile territory, including pertinent background perspective about his mother, where perhaps the most shocking detail in the entire 5-film series is claiming “She had a strange way of showing it, but she loved you.”  This, of course, puts everything that came before in a different light, where Lucien gently reminds Antoine that though his parents were imperfect, “the faults were not entirely theirs,” suggesting many of his problems are his own.  Just after his mother’s death, Truffaut discovered numerous documents in her archives that displayed an unspoken affection for her son, where in his biography, he reproached himself later in life for his resentment toward his mother, where one of the transcendent moments of the film is Lucien taking Antoine to visit her grave at the Montmartre Cemetery, one of her favorite neighborhoods.  Like the reconstructed torn up photograph, the entire Doinel adventure is an elaborate memory puzzle that needs to be fit together, where Antoine’s journey is a quest to find the proper balance in his life or be destined to always fall over the edge.  We’re left with the idea that once he finally accepts his mother’s love, though she never really accepted him, Antoine can stop running.

Truffaut was 46 when he made this film, and died just six years later, a year after his youngest child was born, making only three more films, slowed down by health problems that resulted in a stroke, eventually diagnosed with a brain tumor, where he died in 1984 at the age of 52, five films short of his goal to make 30 films and then retire, (along with his other personal goal of watching 3 movies a day and reading two books a week), hoping to write books in his waning years.  He is buried at the Montmartre Cemetery, one of Antoine’s favorite neighborhoods.  

George Sadoul, noted French journalist and film critic, writing in 1959 on the revolutionary aspects of The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups), which may as well stand for the entire Antoine Doinel series:

There is neither a ‘happy ending’ nor an ‘unhappy ending.’ It’s an ‘open end’ with a question mark. It’s just fine that way…this story flows along like life.

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