Love at Twenty/Antoine and Colette (1962)

Antoine and Collette 3.jpg

We’re reintroduced to Antoine Doinel from The 400 Blows in Antoine and Colette, a 30 minute short film as part of Love at Twenty.

Antoine is now 17, and he’s achieved his dream of self-reliance as he lives on his own in Paris and works at a record company.  A quick narration tells us all this and explains that he loves music so that’s how he meets Colette, at one of many youth concerts.

Antoine can’t take his eyes off Colette, and he slowly gets to know her, but she sees him as friend rather than a love interest.  In order to be closer to her, Antoine moves across the street from where Colette lives with her parents.  Antoine quickly becomes ingratiated in Colette’s family as her parents love him.

One night Antoine goes for it and kisses Colette, but it’s a violent struggle in which she ultimately shoves him off of her.  Embarrassed, he retreats home to be alone.  Soon after, Colette invites him back to dinner, but he resists going as a protest for her rejection of him.

A few minutes later he caves and comes over.  A few minutes after that, Colette’s date arrives, and he’s an older and taller gentleman, dwarfing Antoine.  The parents seem to realize just how embarrassing this is for Antoine, and they sit down, the three of them, and watch a televised concert.

So it’s another somber ending, but it’s a moment of growth for Antoine.  He’s only a kid, and unrequited love is basically a right of passage.  Though he’s sad, he does form a surrogate family, filling the void created by the distance between him and his parents.  Though we don’t see the familiar adults from The 400 Blows, Antoine tells Colette’s parents that he is no longer close to them.

In other words, it’s bittersweet.

Antoine is a sweet kid who’s hardworking and proud of being a working man.  He seems like a kid you’d be happy to let your daughter go out with, and Colette’s mother is happy to let her go out with him.  It’s a bit of a surprise to see how well-adjusted Antoine is since he was such a trouble maker in The 400 Blows.  He was always a sympathetic kid, but he rejected his forms of rebellion with relative ease, apparently, and has become a contributing member of society.

It also makes the ending of The 400 Blows a bit more optimistic.  It seemed likely that Antoine would be punished for running away like he did as a child, and we’re told that, yes he was in fact punished.  But a teacher took an interest in him and helped him out.  Not only is he independent in the big city, but we’re explicitly told that such a life was his dream.  Based on Truffaut’s trajectory as a filmmaker to this point, I’d almost expect him to tell us in voice over that Antoine is a drug addict trying to cope with some sort of existential crisis.

But maybe we don’t get that because Antoine is someone he cares about.  Antoine is Truffaut’s surrogate character as The 400 Blows was incredibly personal to the director.  So it seems like he’s a little more gentle with this character, and yet he still finds a way to humble Antoine, leaving him feeling alone at the end of the film.

In a way, Truffaut is undercutting the idea of Antoine achieving his dream.  It shows a need for humans to keep moving.  We’re never settled, for the most part.  Antoine once wanted nothing but independence, and he’s gotten that, but then he realizes he wants to be with Colette.

Catherine from Jules and Jim was like that too.  Anytime her life became too comfortable or unexciting, she would run away, trying to change that.

This short film ends with a song about young love, reiterating that it’s most often a learning experience, because you’re figuring yourself out as much as you’re learning about and falling for other people.  And Antoine just learned another lesson, meaning he’s one step closer to becoming a more fully-formed adult.

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