February First Love films (Dan’s Pick)

antoineANTOINE AND COLETTE (1962; Dir.: Francois Truffaut)

GRADE: B+

By Daniel Barnes

Every month in our Time of the Season feature, we will be offering seasonal movie suggestions based on a common theme.  In honor of Valentine’s Day, our February Time of the Season theme is “First Love”.  It’s an appropriate topic, because even though both Dub and I are happily married to wonderful women, our first love has always been cinema.

There are a number of obvious great First Love films that sprang to mind when we finalized this topic, from classics like They Live by Night and Harold and Maude to more modern favorites like Before Sunrise and Let the Right One In.   A number of First Love films are even playing in theaters right now, including That Awkward Moment and the recent remake of Franco Zefferelli’s Endless Love.

With Time of the Season, though, we will attempt to go a level or two deeper than those obvious picks.  In fact, my selection for a great First Love film is actually a great First Love short film, Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows follow-up Antoine and Colette, now streaming on Hulu Plus.

Antoine and Collete was originally part of a 1962 omnibus film called Love at 20, a veritable “first love” smorgasbord that also featured segments directed by Andrzej Wajda, Marcel Ophuls, Renzo Rossellini, and Shintaro Ishihara.  Unfortunately, the entire film does not appear to be available anywhere, although Truffaut’s first segment has endured.

The 32-minute film is a legitimate sequel to The 400 Blows that catches up with the Antoine Doinel character (still played with an arresting blankness by Jean-Pierre Leaud) several years after the previous movie’s final freeze frame.  He is now 17 and, as the narrator informs us, is living his dream of a “solitary, independent life”.  Antoine works a menial job at a record company, smokes cigarette butts in a cramped apartment overlooking Paris, and feeds his love of classical music by attending youth concerts.

One of the defining characteristics of a “first love” is that it is frequently unrequited.  Antoine starts to notice a pretty girl named Colette at the concerts, and begins pursuing her with the ardor of a lovesick puppy.  However, even after he writes her a love letter, she only “treats him like a friend”, and every attempt to make a date with her is met with blasé responses of “might”, “maybe”, and “can’t promise”.

Although it is a further examination of the same character, Antoine and Colette has a much lighter tone than The 400 Blows, and sends its protagonist on an opposite path.  Whereas the 1959 feature was all about Antoine’s pathological flight from domestic life, in Antoine and Collette he doggedly and obsessively pursues it.

Leaud’s attempts to invade Colette’s affections – and by extension, the gregarious warmth of her family – are positively stalker-like, and he even goes so far as to move into the apartment across the street.  The magic of Truffaut is that both here and in The 400 Blows, we recognize the often rotten and selfish impulses behind Antoine’s actions, and yet our empathy for him is so profound that we feel his final rejection like a punch to the stomach.