Saturday, April 4, 2015

François Truffaut | Antoine and Colette (Antoine and Colette)

a hit with her parents
by Douglas Messerli

François Truffaut (writer and director) Antoine et Colette (Antoine and Colette) / 1962

Shortly after finishing his great film, Jules et Jim, François Truffaut went to work on an omnibus project with a short film of his own and other short films by Roberto Rossellini, Shintaro Ishihara, Marcel Ophuls, and Andrzej Wajda. The film, as an entire project, was evidently a complete failure, and has seldom been shown as a five-star cinema. But Truffaut’s own contribution to the larger work, Antoine et Colette (Antoine and Colette) was an important development in his career, namely because it represents the second in his ongoing Antoine Doinel series.

     According to the film’s narrative, Antoine was rearrested after his escape from the juvenile observation camp, and was taken to another institution, from where he was released to work at at the Phillips Record Company back in Paris. The young “delinquent” (again, Jean-Pierre Léaud) has clearly mended any of his reportedly “bad ways,” as he arrives each day on time to help pack records and, at one point, even works on trimming the wax and labeling the product. In his evenings and weekends he joins his former friend René, also now working, at concerts of contemporary music. There he encounters a beautiful student, Colette (Marie-Frances Pisier), whom he quietly stalks until he has the opportunity to formally meet her.

     She does nothing to discourage his attentions, often joining him at concerts and inviting him into her home. Colette’s mother finds the young boy “romantic” (perhaps because of his long hair), and her affable father enjoys the young boy’s company. The only problem is that Colette seems, at best, diffident about her would-be suitor, inviting him to drop by without promising him that she will be at home. In one instance he discovers that, despite her commonly expressed insistence that she needs to study, that she has stayed out most the night with friends. Another time, she simply fails to show up to a lecture on electronic music she has hinted she might attend, and Antoine leaves in frustration.
     Finally, determined to keep a better eye on her, he rents a room in a hotel across from her and her family’s apartment; when the family spots him in the window, they joyfully invite themselves up to inspect his new digs, pleasantly commenting on his few belongings, which includes, unpredictably, a photograph of the lower half of his face swallowed up in his sweater, a major image from The 400 Blows. His move, if nothing else, brings him even closer to Colette’s parents, who now invite him over regularly for dinners; but his shift of living conditions does little to assure him of Colette’s love. And by the brief film’s end, he finds himself sharing a bowl of tangerines with the old folks, while an older boy stops by to collect Colette for a date. Antoine may have gained a new set of parents, but he has lost the object of his love. Obviously, he is seen by Colette, as she describes him in the last of the Doinel series, Love on the Run, as merely a “little brother.”

     From our point of view, we can well comprehend why the now 16-year old boy is not yet the man he perceives himself to be; but the uncomfortably silent interlude with Colette’s parents reveal that his heart is broken—a condition which he must continue to face, it is already clear, throughout the rest of his life. Love seems something that will always remain just out of Antoine’s reach.
     The film is certainly lightweight material, and to ponder its concerns deeper might only release the air out of this buoyant balloon of a motion picture. But the charm that Léaud once again brings to the role is considerable, and once more we feel for this autobiographically-conceived creation in a way that transcends the substance of the script. The director clearly recognized through this short that he had to continue to engage himself with his characters in way that far transcends the more recent 12-year commitment Richard Linklater made to his actors in his 2014 film Boyhood.

Los Angeles, April 4, 2015

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (April, 2015).

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