Truffaut revisits Antoine Doinel a final time in Love on the Run, out on Blu-ray from Artificial Eye
Much of the following is revised and updated from my DVD review written for this site in 2009, which can be found here
Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is now in his thirties. His marriage to Christine (Claude Jade) is about to end in divorce. He is living with Sabine (Dorothée), who runs a record shop. A chance encounter with former girlfriend Colette (Marie-France Pisier), now a lawyer, causes Antoine to reassess his life so far.
Given how personal the films that make up Les aventures d’Antoine Doinel are, it seems that Francois Truffaut repeatedly returned to his autobiographical character and surrogate as a means of escapism. Leaving out the half-hour Antoine et Colette (part of the portmanteau feature Love at Twenty), his first sequel to The Four Hundred Blows, Stolen Kisses (Baisers volés) hardly reflects the turmoil in Truffaut’s personal and professional life (see the review for more details). In a different way, the next instalment, Bed and Board (Domicile conjugal) was a means of running for cover, following the expensive failure of the film immediately before it, Mississippi Mermaid.
Eight years later, Truffaut returned to Antoine Doinel (played as ever by Jean-Pierre Léaud) for what was always envisaged as the final time. His previous film, The Green Room (La chambre verte), adapated from stories by Henry James, was a dark, brooding, death-haunted piece of no great commercial appeal (and it found little of it) so he presumably felt in need of some light relief, something much less demanding. If nothing else, Love on the Run comes over at first sight as a lightweight piece knocked off with almost insouciant ease, and an hour and a half slips by painlessly and pleasantly, as fast moving as its title suggests. There’s not a great deal of plot, mostly engineered by chance encounters with figures from his past: mainly Colette (played again by Marie-France Pisier) but also his mother’s lover Lucien (Julien Bertheau). But these are a framework for Doinel to re-examine his life. And that life is a cinema life, the rare circumstance of the same character being played by the same actor over eighteen years in three earlier features and a short film. So Truffaut uses sequences from all the earlier Doinel films as flashbacks. He didn’t stop there: footage from non-Doinel films such as The Man Who Loved Women and Day for Night (in which Léaud acted) are pressed into service, as is a non-Truffaut film which featured Léaud. And there’s more: Antoine’s novel title (Les salades d’amour) is an in-joke reference to Day for Night. And when Antoine and Sabine go to the cinema, the film showing is another Truffaut, A Gorgeous Girl Like Me. Quite what a viewer who had not seen the earlier Doinels, let alone other Truffaut films, would make of this is a good question.
Such incessant self-referentiality would be tiresome if you didn’t have the sense that Truffaut was reassessing his own life in this film. I don’t know if he had any inkling that he would only live another six years and make just three more films after this one, but there’s a feeling that Truffaut is summing up his life (and his films: the two are hard to separate) so far, bidding farewell to his younger self, and moving on…to what, remains an unanswerable question due to his early death. His next film, The Last Metro, would however be the biggest box-office hit of his career.
One of Truffaut’s key collaborators, who first worked with him on The Wild Child and would remain in place for all but four of the films the director would go on to make, was his DP Nestor Almendros. He had here a very difficult task: to merge his new footage, with that made at different times, on different film stocks, by other DPs, without the result becoming too visually jarring. At least Stolen Kisses and Bed and Board were in colour and the same ratio as Love on the Run, but The Four Hundred Blows and Antoine and Colette had been made in black and white and Scope. The extracts from these two films were de-anamorphised and judiciously cropped to 1.66:1: they remain in black and white, but an extract from the colour film Stolen Kisses, where Colette makes a brief reappearance in Antoine’s life, is printed in black and white for consistency’s sake. The non-Truffaut film featuring Léaud, Les lolos de Lola, had been shot in 16mm, so that was blown up to 35mm. Almendros’s own work in Love on the Run is as “neutral” as possible, to allow the transitions in time to be as seamless as they possibly can. Truffaut is no doubt paying tribute to his long-serving cinematographer by giving Antoine a birthday on “St Nestor’s Day”. There’s another nod in the fact that we see storyboards from Eric Rohmer’s Perceval, which is the film Almendros shot in between The Green Room and this one.
In front of the camera, while Pisier (who contributed to the script) is fine and Claude Jade and Dorothée do well with more limited screen time, this is inevitably Jean-Pierre Léaud’s show. It’s a measure of his ability that he did make an impact with films other than Truffaut’s: in Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore, for example, while his presence as an ageing soixante-huitard in The Pornographer gives that film a weight it doesn’t otherwise earn. In the Doinel films, which are to some extent comedies, he’s a very natural presence on screen: but seeing his younger selves and his adult self together in the same film gives a real sense of time passed and a life lived. Love on the Run, while in itself quite slight, gains with a knowledge of the earlier films, and brings to a close one of the great actor/director partnerships in cinema.
Love on the Run is one of twelve Truffaut films reissued on Blu-ray and DVD by Artificial Eye. It was the former which was received for review, as a BD25 checkdisc. Comments and affiliate links refer to that edition. Affiliate links for the DVD can be found here.
Passed by the BBFC with a AA certificate (fourteen and over) on its cinema release, Love on the Run now rates a 12 for brief nudity (one topless scene).
The transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.66:1. As mentioned above, Almendros’s camerawork is “neutral” and tends towards the muted in colour, and the extracts from the earlier colour films are somewhat desaturated to match. That said, the results are solid and grain is present and filmlike. I’ve no reason to doubt this looks as intended, though neither Truffaut or Almendros are around to comment. This is the second Blu-ray which appears to be incompatible with my PC player so I cannot provide a screengrab. The image above (as the review template on this site insists I have one) is from the previous DVD.
The soundtrack is the original mono, and it’s entirely clear and well balanced. English subtitles are optional, but as ever with these Truffaut discs, you can only play the feature subtitles when the feature soundtrack is playing. If you select the commentary, then commentary subtitles play, though are optional as well.
The commentary features Marie-France Pisier, interviewed (in 2000) by Serge Toubiana. Pisier tells us how she became involved in the film, and her contributions to the screenplay, while she and Toubiana tick off most of the references to other films. The result is listenable enough, with some gaps, but hardly the most engaging of commentaries.
The remaining extras on the 2 Entertain disc are a short introduction by Toubiana (3:54), describing the background and methods of the film in short subject headings, and the theatrical trailer (2:32).
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum