Antoine et Colette (1962) *** ½
Directed by: François Truffaut.
Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud (Antoine Doinel), Marie-France Pisier (Colette), Patrick Auffay (René), François Darbon (Colette's Stepfather), Rosy Varte (Colette's Mother).
There has never been a cinematic alter ego for a director as well known Antoine Doinel was for Francois Truffuat. Truffaut’s first film, The 400 Blows, followed Doinel as a young teenager, struggling at home and at school, and eventually turning to street life and petty crime, before being sent to a reform school. This was the film that made Truffaut’s reputation, and remains one of the seminal works of the French New Wave. Truffaut based the film on his own experiences growing up. In 1962, he was approached to be part of an omnibus film, Love at Twenty, and decided to make a sequel to The 400 Blows, called Antoine et Colette, where we know see Antoine a few years older, on his own and supporting himself working at a record factory. He becomes obsessed with a beautiful girl named Colette, who he meets at the orchestra. The rest of the film follows Antoine’s attempts to win her over – but she just wants to be friends.
The film is short – about a half hour – but it certainly does stand the test of the time, and is one of the best films about unrequited love I can remember. Jean-Pierre Leaud once again plays Antoine, who has settled down a little bit in the year between the movies, become more mature and responsible. He no longer has to depend on anyone but himself for support – his parents are out of the picture, he doesn’t go to school, etc. He can do what he wants. What he really wants is Colette.
The early scenes in the film are brilliantly staged by Truffaut. We see Antoine settle into his seat at the orchestra, and then catch a glimpse of the beautiful Colette. Again and again, he shows up there to try and catch a look at her, and later, he tries to maneuver himself into a position where he can sit next to her. Eventually, the two of the talk, and flirt, and agree to meet again. What this means to Antoine, and what this means to Colette, of course, mean two entirely different things.
Antoine et Colette is an amusing, light hearted film. I’ll bet most people can relate to poor Antoine, having a crush on someone as a teenager, and believing their relationship is far more than it is to the other person. I enjoyed the scenes where Antoine meets her parents, and tries to be respectful, and how much sympathy they have for him. But if nothing else, Antoine should have clued in that Colette thinks of him as little more than a friend when her response to his love letter begins “Your letter was very well written…” Not exactly the response he was hoping for.
Antoine et Colette may be a minor work by a major director, but that doesn’t mean it is not worthy of attention. This is the film that often gets overlooked in the Antoine Doinel catalogue, because it is a short. But there is genuine emotion here – the last scene is almost heartbreaking – and it really is Truffaut pouring out his soul. For some reason, I had not seen any of the Doinel films after The 400 Blows, but after watching this film, I intend to correct that as soon as possible.