Saturday, December 06, 2008
Antoine and Colette
directed by Francois Truffaut
Antoine et Colette is the second of five films Francois Truffaut made about Antoine Doinel, a semi-autobiographical and perpetually hapless character played by Jean Pierre Leaud. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who's seen all five films and wouldn't name The 400 Blows as their favorite by a mile, but Antoine et Colette -- the only short in the bunch -- gets its fair share of love too. As Kylos mentioned, the film was originally included as a part of the 1962 omnibus film Love at Twenty, but Criterion recently extracted Truffaut's segment and released it as a stand-alone piece in their Adventures of Antoine Doinel box set. That's how I first came across it, and I still haven't seen the rest of Love at Twenty. I think this goes to show the peculiar way in which context is at once seen as integral and dispensable with an omnibus film: Love at Twenty as a whole seems to be about the message we get when putting all these separate shorts together, but the segments are each able to have lives of their own outside the film and be perhaps even more popular out of context.
Antoine and Colette gives Truffaut fans the ultimate wish fulfillment -- wouldn't we all love the opportunity to glimpse into the lives of the characters from our favorite films a few years after they are where we've left them when the credits rolled? The short comes three years after the tremendous international success of The 400 Blows, which was Truffaut's debut feature. That film has a huge emotional impact on me whenever I watch it, and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. The ending is iconic for its ambiguity; after the film takes us on such an emotional journey, we don't even get unequivocal proof in the end that Antoine is going to be "OK." The whole purpose of Antoine and Colette (and continuing on the Antoine character in general) seems to be Truffaut's way of telling us (and perhaps himself) that we don't need to worry, Antoine's life will continue on in its same haphazard way, and he will always be able to make it through whatever situation he finds himself in. I'm reminded of a quote from Felini that has always stuck with me, about the titular character in his film Nights of Cabiria, "This film doesn't have a resolution in the sense that there is a final scene in which the story reaches a conclusion so definitive that you no longer have to worry about Cabiria. I myself have worried about her fate ever since." Antoine and Colette seems to be Truffaut's way of telling us not to worry about Antoine.
Of the Antoine Doinel films I've seen, I would rank this one just behind The 400 Blows. What I like about it is that it there is no narrative gimmick of any kind, it's just a slice of Antoine's life at age 17. Truffaut has admitted that the later films were just excuses for him to work with Leaud again and to continue to character on. As a result, some of the features rely on some pretty unnecessary plot contrivances. In Stolen Kisses, Antoine tries his hand at being a detective. In Bed and Board, he works for a Japanese businessman and attempts to woo his daughter. They're good films, though I don't like them as much as Antoine and Colette, and I think their length has something to do with it. I'm not sure that Truffaut would be able to make a feature out of the plot of this short. It's so much a slice of life, a fleeting glimpse into the day-to-day of Antoine as a young adult. Aside from his ill-fated romance with Colette, the film is much more about creating an overall atmosphere than focusing on a gripping plot. Since it's hard to sustain a the slice-of-life atmosphere over a 90 minute feature, the latter three films in the series don't have the same effect as this short. For this reason, perhaps the series as a whole would have been stronger if Truffaut had kept the last four films as shorts rather than features. All we really want is a glimpse into Antoine's life to know that he's staying out of trouble (though that's rarely the case with him), and that is all Antoine and Colette grants us.