Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Antoine and Colette (1962) - #5

Preliminaries are over. Time to attack.

Antoine and Colette, a short follow-up to The 400 Blows that Francois Truffaut contributed to an international New Wave art house anthology project called Love at 20, has been sitting in my on-deck circle for way too long, considering just how slight and straightforward it actually turned out to be. I've been distracted by other obligations over the past few weeks, but now that I've watched  it a couple of times, I think this is just the kind of film that deserves not much more than a quick knock-off review that will allow me to move on to other, more complicated things without having to strain my brain all that much.

The basic concept of Love at 20, as far as I can tell, was to pull young and trendy directors from five different nations together for the purpose of illustrating the universal experience of romantic attraction among young adults. On paper, it sounds like a great idea - the New Wave was in full bloom across a few continents, and what better showcase for these emerging new talents than a collection of spry, whimsical romances? Too bad that the end result didn't quite live up to expectations, from what I've read. While Truffaut's contribution to the project is fondly appreciated, segments by Andrzej Wajda, Shintaro Ishihara and a pair of Euro-directors capitalizing on their famous surnames (Marcel Ophuls, Renzo Rossellini) don't fare as well in contemporary critical appraisal. That's too bad, because I'd still like to see them anyway, but apparently, it's fairly difficult to find the film intact nowadays. Though the other segments have faded into obscurity, Truffaut's opener for Love at 20 has been preserved and widely reproduced on account of the longevity of Antoine Doinel as a character who went on to be the centerpiece of four other features that Truffaut directed over the next couple decades. They've all been collected in a Criterion box set, and this one is found only there as a supplement to The 400 Blows - it's not available on the standalone editions of that seminal nouvelle vague masterpiece.

As a continuation of the remarkable story that began in The 400 Blows, Antoine and Colette succeeds quite nicely in side-stepping any attempt to escalate the drama or poignancy of its instant-classic predecessor. A connection is quickly established between the films when Antoine meets with his friend Rene in a cafe, and they reminisce about a funny scene from years gone by, but after that, Antoine remains strictly in the moment, a 17-year old living on his own and eager for the passage of time that will launch him into full-fledged adulthood. He's lean and hungry and prowling the landscape for a woman who will help fulfill his burgeoning desires. Soon enough, we see him ogling Colette in sublime profile, playing ever so fetchingly with her lower lip at a classical music concert. Though we recognize that Antoine seriously appreciates great music, it's also easy to see that more primal urges overrule his more refined aesthetic proclivities. By falling down the "love at first sight" rabbit hole, Antoine's short term destiny charts the course of this brief foray into the delights and hazards of hasty impulsive romance.

What unfolds from that point forward is sadly but amusingly all too familiar to any guy whose lust has overstepped his grasp - and I figure that this group includes a substantial majority of men, just calculating the odds off the top of my head. Colette is undeniably attractive, and perfectly willing to give Antoine's courtship sufficient consideration. Still, it's pretty clear from the get-go that he doesn't really stand much of a chance to be anything more than just a "dear friend," despite his almost desperate gestures to win her affection. His strivings include a protracted cultivation of familiarity with Colette's parents, and most tragically, a relocation from his incredibly well-placed apartment in the heart of Paris to a new studio squat just coincidentally located across the street and on the exact same floor from the apartment where Colette's family lives. Any man who's trodden Antoine's path of dismal rejection and failure at his most earnest advances will wince, either with grim abhorrence or bemused indifference, as he witnesses Colette's calm and cold rebuffs, utterly inexplicable, since Antoine seems to be such a charming catch... up until we see the crushing denouement at her family dinner table, as she steps out with a broad shouldered hunk, which even at quick glance instantly explains everything, leaving Antoine behind to finish his supper and watch some TV with her parents.

The delights to be found here include an amazing realization of the fact that once upon a time, teenagers wore sharply tailored sporting jackets and met up with their actual or potential girlfriends at classical music recitals. Truffaut's casually brilliant incorporation of New Wave elements only adds to the pleasures - his boxed framing devices, cool voice-over narration, stylish smoking gestures, populist cinephilia, incidental vinyl fetish porn and the requisite winsome Parisian street scenes spill over with a verdant amplitude that easily outweighs the brief half-hour run time. As slim as it was in narrative heft, the brief glimpse we're afforded into Doinel's late-teen existence in Antoine and Colette turned out to be a sufficiently strong link to bear the weight of a primal art house franchise that would last another seventeen years.

Next: Pitfall


bza said...

Pitfall is one of the most complex and obtuse films in the Collection, so this is a good palate cleanser for that. However, I have to disagree with your characterization of this short as slight. While the story and tone are bubble light indeed, I think the filmmaking here is rather profound and impressive. I haven't watched the movie in a few years, but when I saw it I was struck by the various cinematic flourishes and youthful energy. I think it's a really great short that might be underestimated because it is pulled off so effortlessly and focuses on light themes - like a Lubitsch or Hawks comedy. I love the Doinel series, but this might be the most impressive to me after 400 Blows.

David Blakeslee said...

Oh I didn't mean to imply anything negative by using the word "slight" to describe Antoine and Colette, but your response is fair. I enjoyed this film quite a bit - I was just thinking about it in comparison to recent reviews that at least felt like they required more brain power for me to write about. Exterminating Angel, Being John Malkovich, Certified Copy, each had my head in knots as I watched, rewatched, then pondered what I would have to say about them! This, on the other hand, was superbly direct and comprehensible! :) A perfect palate cleanser for those OTHER movies, if you will... now it looks like I'm in for another mind-bender... OK, I'm up for it, I'll try not to take two weeks before bloggin' about it this time. lol