Wednesday, March 25, 2015

François Truffaut | L’Amour en fuite (Love on the Run)

pasting together the torn picture of the past
by Douglas Messerli

François Truffaut, Jean Aurel, Suzanne Schiffman, and Marie-France Pisier (writers), François
Truffaut (director) L’Amour en fuite (Love on the Run) / 1979

François Truffaut’s 1979 film, the last of his Antoine Doinel cycle, is literally a pastiche; but instead of borrowing from or imitating other filmmakers, he steals pieces from the films of his own past, including not only the Doinel works (Antoine and Colette, The Four Hundred Blows, The Soft Skin, Stolen Kisses and Bed and Board), but from Day for Night, and with references to others of his films. 
     This recycling of his previous films, which is made quite clear within the narrative of the new adventures in the life of his man-child, might also be compared to the metaphor that is at the heart of this new film, Love on the Run. The hero (Jean-Pierre Léaud) discovers his new lover, Sabine Barnerias (Dorothée), after observing, in a restaurant telephone booth, a man arguing with his lover over the phone and angrily tearing up a photograph he leaves behind. Entering the booth, Antoine picks up the pieces and later pastes them back together, eventually, falling in love with the unknown subject of the photo. After weeks of searching, he tracks her down working in a record store, and after a few visits, the two strike up a relationship which, by the time Love on the Run begins, has, like all of Antoine’s previous relationships with women (his former wife, Christine [Claude Jade], her assistant Liliane [Dani] and his childhood unrequited love, Colette [Marie-France Pisier]), falls apart.
     Complications—the signing of his divorce decree from Christine, his promise to take his son Alphonse to the train, and an accidental sighting of Colette—all appear to intrude upon his new relationship, condemning it to failure; but the viewer also recognizes, even if he has not seen the other Doinel films, that they are simply diversions that the failed hero uses to delay and even scuttle his commitment. The fact that Antoine, moreover, cannot bring himself to allow these consequential and inconsequential events to intersect—except through art—makes it quite clear to all of his would-be lovers that he compartmentalizing his life, using them for his various childish needs—for a mother, nurse, confessor, and lover—that impedes any wholeness in his life.
    The autobiographical elements of film that point to the directors own past are obvious, and Truffaut’s growing discomfort with that is made apparent in Antoine’s own discussion of his fiction, in which—although he uses events and individuals in his own life, twists events, combines characters, and obfuscates in numerous ways—still reveals his inabilities to create something original. What’s more, into the pastiche of his own art, Trauffaut slips subtle cinematic references (such as the similarities on the train with Hitchcock’s North by Northwest), along with numerous red-herrings of plot developments that are left dangling in mid-air (what is the secret manuscript that Antoine’s co-worker asks him to lock away in the safe? Why does Christine attempt to visit Sabine in her apartment? Why does Colette, who has herself lost a child, become determined to defend a child-murderer, and what does it have to do with Antoine’s story?) which make for an often turgid tale that confuses more than it ultimately reveals.  It is little wonder that the director himself agreed with critics who found Love on the Run contrived and narcissistic. Léaud, who knew this was to be his last reincarnation as Antoine Doinel, later admitted to a great sadness while filming the piece. Certainly, this work lacks the freshness so noted in many Truffaut’s best works. 
     Nonetheless, there is something to be said by laying all these obvious “pieces” of life and art out on the cutting board in order to attempt to release the eternal child from the past that haunts him with the knowledge that if they can be pasted back together in a slightly different order, the future can be possibly redeemed. We may never truly believe that the loveable but psychologically damaged Antoine can ever truly stop running, that he can commit to a real relationship by interconnecting the various aspects of his life. But at least, by film’s end, there does appear to be some hope.

     The sudden appearance of one of his mother’s former lovers, Lucien (Julien Bertheau) who describes the “monstrously” anarchistic mother as a “little bird” and takes her traumatized son to see her burial plot in Montmartre cemetery, Colette’s analysis of his behavior and her generosity of seeking him out to return to him his beloved photograph of Sabine, and even Christine’s obvious love for the man she has divorced, all help Antoine to return to Sabine, revealing to her his devotion and, at least, a promise for a new future. It is as if Truffaut, himself, in pasting together all these autobiographical-like images of his art (in the editing of the film, with which he commented, he was pleased) has been able finally, in laying aside the Doinel character, to move forward with a commitment to a new work evidenced in The Last Metro, The Green Room, and Confidentally Yours. His sudden death prevented him, perhaps, from fully realizing the symbolic redemption of Love on the Run.

Los Angeles, April 25, 2015

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