Directed by Francois Truffaut
Love on the Run is the final installment in the Antoine Doinel saga. Across 20 years, from age 13 to 33, Truffaut followed his cinematic surrogate through the ups and downs of love. In the first and most famous film, The 400 Blows, we meet Antoine as a restless spirit, his need to break free manifested through a series of escapes and petty crimes. He’s a somber character but one worth championing. His goal feels like the goal of the masses and Doinel a surrogate not just for Truffaut’s own childhood but for all of us as well.
In the subsequent films, Doinel became less universal and more comic. He fought for Colette’s affections in Antoine et Colette and stumbled through a marriage and multiple affairs in the later films: Stolen Kisses and Bed & Board. Each of those films was much more broad and even slapstick than The 400 Blows. Antoine’s spirit certainly remained, but the stories ignored much of his soul and focused on his reckless pursuit of love.
In The 400 Blows, Antoine is a character formed and ruined by his parents, at least that’s how he sees it. In Antoine et Colette, he acknowledges this, saying he falls in love with a girl’s family as much as the girl herself. He seeks a familial stability he never had. But in the subsequent films, Antoine’s psyche mattered much less to the plot. He continued to get himself in trouble, but his fears and anxieties stood in as comic tropes more than anything revealing about his character.
Whereas The 400 Blows felt deeply personal, yanked out of Truffaut’s own being, the other films felt like an entirely new director bought the rights to the Doinel character. That isn’t to say they’re bad, they’re not. Though less somber and drenched in a kind of melancholy inherent to aspects of childhood, the other films find joy in the moment, so to speak. These films all exist as a whole, in many ways, like the chapters of Boyhood or the three films of Linklater’s Before trilogy.
So the relatively inconsequential matters that the other Doinel films deal with become more impactful when considered as part of the whole. We’re not meant to examine every important pivot point in Antoine’s life, we’re meant to grow with him. Antoine’s concerns of the moment, though they may soon pass, are given weight simply by being shown onscreen. His brief affair with a Japanese woman, though it hardly seems to matter in the grand scheme of the Doinel films, mattered because it mattered for a moment. It doesn’t have to last to have meaning.
And like other films that cover large swaths of time (including the Seven Up! documentary series), the power of this series of films is to observe time pass through Antoine as much as he passes through it. We watch him age and grow while always resembling that troubled little boy in whom we may have seen ourselves back in The 400 Blows. As Antoine ages and even as he grows away from us, we should still be able to see ourselves in his evolution, charting our own progression alongside his despite the different trajectories.
On its own, Love on the Run is probably the worst film in this series. Truffaut later admitted he wished this film hadn’t been made. Despite acting as a clear conclusion to the series, the film, as the New York Times review of the film’s release aptly put it, is “like opening a new book and skipping immediately to the epilogue.”
The film is smothered in flashbacks to the previous films, like a glorified clip show. We relive so many of the greatest hits, but in the new context they lose their meaning. I’ll admit that I felt some kind of catharsis when we see 13 year old Antoine again, smiling gleefully on the carnival ride from The 400 Blows. Revisiting the boy’s smile after watching him lightly suffer through life’s problems (even if they’re created by himself) was reassuring. At the end of the day, we’re all still that child inside.
But for the most part, these clips are shoved in our face. There is still some power in watching the juxtaposition of old and new, making us very aware of time’s effects, but it also felt completely unnecessary. The point is to see Antoine as he is now.
But we’re given all these old moments because Antoine as he is now is scouring the past, looking for answers. He is in the middle of a divorce, and he runs into past flames Sabine and Colette. Colette pours through Antoine’s published book, revisiting their old (mostly platonic) relationship through his eyes and learning about subsequent relationships.
Making Antoine a writer gives us an excuse to relive the past, though not much comes of it here. We’re reminded of Antoine’s infidelities and his ever-present pursuit of affection or attention or love or whatever it is. He’s never settled, as Colette mentions when she sees him running from the courthouse to his next destination. He’s always on the run. In The 400 Blows it was a run from the societal restraints that bound him, and here we’re reminded that he’s only running from himself. Maybe that’s all we do is run.
There isn’t much to make of this ending. Antoine gets back together with Sabine, but we’re given little reason to care about her over Antoine’s other loves, like Christine or Colette or Liliane. She’s just the woman of the moment, and he even refers to a feeling that this love won’t last forever because it never does. Antoine simply gives into the moment as I suppose he has always done. For the time being he gives into Sabine’s embrace, but we know he’s still on the run, still looking for something, just like the 13 year old boy on the beach at the end of The 400 Blows.