Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Director Spotlight #10.17: Francois Truffaut's Love on the Run

Every month, Director Spotlight takes a look at an auteur, shines some light on a few items in the director’s body of work, points out what makes them an artist, and shows why some of their films work and some don’t. September’s director is consummate cinephile Francois Truffaut.

NOTE: Look, I’m tired of typing it out for pretty much every entry, so here it is in the opening: there’s going to be spoilers in this thing, and in almost every entry of Director Spotlight. There’s a lot more to a film than the basic plotting, which is only a small part of the enjoyment as far as I’m concerned. Still, if it’s going to bother you, I’d highly suggest not reading ahead until you’ve seen the movie in question.

Grade: 73 (B+)

Characters are often identified by association with actor, but rarely has a character been so associated with a director than Antoine Doinel with Francois Truffaut. Doinel started as both a Truffaut surrogate and an attempt to exorcise past demons in The 400 Blows, while Antoine and Colette and Stolen Kisses showed the character’s exploits with young love, as one might expect Truffaut went through them. But Bed and Board curdled into rote divorce drama, and Truffaut himself stated that he had moved past the character. 1979’s Love on the Run plays as a last hurrah for Doinel, as well as the final collaboration between Truffaut and star Jean-Pierre Leaud before the director’s untimely death. It can’t quite recapture the magic of Truffaut’s earlier masterworks, not is it an entirely satisfying work. But as an epilogue and a restoration of Stolen Kisses’ more hopeful tone, it’s a nice grace note for the series.

Antoine Doinel (Leaud) has just finalized his divorce with Christine (Claude Jade), with whom he has a young son, Alphonse. Even at thirty, Antoine is aimless. His semi-autobiographical novel was published to little acclaim, and his job doesn’t exactly stoke the imagination. His relationship with record store clerk Sabine (Dorothee) is loving but unstable. Antoine runs into Lucien (Julien Bertheau), a former lover of his deceased mother, and former flame Colette (Marie-France Pisier). Antoine discusses where life has taken him, and both Colette and Christine help him find happiness.

Love on the Run is easily the lightest film in the Antoine Doinel series, both in terms of tone and weight. Indeed, much of the film is made up of flashbacks to the previous Doinel films; Truffaut treats this not as a crutch, but as a jumping off point for the story’s conclusion. The use of flashback is often ingenious- during their divorce, Antione and Christine both recall their trysts in Christine’s parents’ wine cellar, Antoine of his forceful and passionate kiss in Stolen Kisses, Christine of her more complacent kiss in Bed and Board. Curiously, the film also reuses elements of Day for Night’s relationship between Jean-Pierre Leaud and Dani; this is a little more intrusive, but when it leads to a moment where Christine displays more affection for her ex-husband than she might have realized she had, it’s largely worth it. Love on the Run stands less well on its own than the first three films in the series, but that’s largely because it’s tasked with wrapping it all up while commenting on how the events of the past make Antoine who he is in the end.

Love on the Run shows both how individuals fail to adjust to life- Antoine is still irresponsible and expects too much from people- and in how life fails individuals- Colette’s marriage failed after the tragic death of her daughter. But Truffaut makes the wise decision to end the series on a joyful note- everyone has a second chance for love, whether it’s Colette’s romance with Sabine’s sister or Antoine’s love for Sabine. Sure, he’s failed Sabine a few times, but his dedication to her is clearer than she ever knew. “All my life I’ve hidden my feelings and have never been direct. I never trusted anyone. But now I do." And as the camera whip pans between Antoine and Sabine’s romance and a shot of Antoine in The 400 Blows, rebellious and young, rejecting life’s constraints, our hero finally finds true happiness in love.

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