For almost a decade, François Truffaut stuck to his resolution that Bed and Board would be the final entry in the Antoine Doinel series. Then, in 1978, The Green Room — a film of great personal importance to him — failed at the box office. Depressed and in need of a hit to recoup his losses, he postponed a project called L’Agence Magic, which would have required a trip to Africa, and decided that it was time to bring Antoine Doinel out of retirement.
Truffaut reasoned that a Doinel film would be both easy to shoot and commercially dependable. He was also influenced by news from director Henning Carlsen that the Dagmar Theater in Copenhagen had screened all four of the existing Doinel movies in a row: “And there were young people watching, all day long, Antoine Doinel growing, loving and aging. And it’s when he told me that that I got the desire to make one last Doinel, which would be L’Amour en fuite.”
In writing L’Amour en fuite, or Love on the Run, Truffaut collaborated with Jean Aurel, Suzanne Schiffman (also his first assistant director) and Marie-France Pisier, who would once again play Colette. It was not as smooth a process as he might have hoped. Pisier thought that the film should end with Antoine and Colette getting together at last; Truffaut disagreed. Schiffman’s ideas were even more distasteful to him, as she explained several years later in Le Roman de François Truffaut:
For a long time, François thought that Bed and Board would be the last Doinel, that he wouldn’t make any more. But he was dissatisfied: ‘It’s not possible, to have had the chance to film an actor from ages fourteen to thirty, to have all this material, and not to do something.’ And we embarked on Love on the Run, ‘to finish off Doinel,’ he said. But he never really wanted to get rid of Doinel. We had black shouting matches on this project. I would say, ‘Either we want there to be other films with Jean-Pierre Léaud as Doinel, and we end on a shot like Charlie Chaplin: he hits the road and we’ll meet up with him somewhere; or we kill him and we’re rid of him.’ ‘You’re completely crazy, we can’t kill Doinel, I haven’t the right!’
Then I suggested that we end it as a film within the film. At the end we would have discovered that it was a film being shot, we would have said, ‘Ah, yes, he’s an actor!’ and François would have entered the picture. We would thereby really have detached Léaud from Doinel. Of course, this was another way of killing Doinel, and I thought that would liberate François and Jean-Pierre. But he didn’t like that at all and he refused.
He was grateful for some suggestions from his co-writers, though. At first, he intended to make Colette a psychoanalyst with whom Antoine would discuss his problems — thereby allowing a number of flashbacks to the earlier films — but he changed his mind, feeling that psychoanalysis was both overly trendy and outside of his comfort zone. Pisier suggested that Colette should be a lawyer, and that she and Antoine would reunite on a train. In François Truffaut at Work, Carole Le Berre says, “Truffaut was delighted because he saw that the journey could be a reservoir of flashbacks, and also because he liked the idea of associating the movement of the train with that of the film.” Additionally, Le Berre notes that Pisier came up with the train concept because, during the Antoine and Colette shoot, “Jean-Pierre Léaud suddenly jumped on a train she was taking to rejoin her family in Nice, and she proposed to the film-maker that they transfer the idea to the Antoine Doinel of 1979.”
After completing Bed and Board in 1970, Léaud had starred in two of Truffaut’s non-Doinel films: 1971’s Two English Girls, a period piece about a wealthy Frenchman who falls in love with a pair of British sisters, and 1973’s Day for Night, a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the making of a movie. His character in the former, Claude, was something of a departure from Antoine. “This is a real performance for him,” Truffaut said on a 1971 episode of Pour le cinéma. “I think that the hardest thing for him is to play someone who was born rich and feels comfortable in life, unlike Antoine Doinel.” Day for Night was less of a challenge. In it, he played a romantic, childish actor named Alphonse who, according to Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana, “resembles in every detail the Léaud of the early seventies,” and consequently has much in common with Antoine as well. (Surely it’s no coincidence that he shares his name with Antoine’s son.) The actor later said that he “never would have disowned or stopped Doinel,” but Truffaut felt guilty about further associating him with the character, who was less and less appealing as he aged yet failed to grow up or take part in society.
In fact, Truffaut had serious doubts about the fifth Doinel film from the start. “I’m not terribly happy with the script of Love on the Run which I start shooting in 2 weeks,” he wrote to film scholar and friend Annette Insdorf on May 10, 1978. “The novelty will be having ‘real’ flashbacks (The 400 Blows — Love at Twenty — Stolen Kisses — Bed and Board), but, in trying to integrate them smoothly, we’ve come up with a wishy-washy script that will be very difficult to improve. Obviously, I’m going to do my utmost, but we’ll also have to give some good scenes to Marie-France Pisier, Claude Jade and especially Jean-Pierre, and it’s not easy.” Pisier, speaking to his biographers in 1992, did not mince words: “François hated this project very early on.” Still, he went ahead with it. Filming began at the end of May and was finished by early July, but because of the complicated editing that the flashbacks entailed, the movie was not released until January of 1979.
Love on the Run begins with Antoine getting dressed in a young woman’s bedroom — instant evidence that his reconciliation with Christine at the end of Bed and Board was unsuccessful. Her name is Sabine (Dorothée), she works in a record store (another musical connection) and she wants more commitment from Antoine. “Listen, a normal guy, if you get my drift, who enjoys sleeping with a woman who enjoys sleeping with him, if this normal guy would keep a razor and some clothes at her place, they’d both save a fortune in rent,” she tells him, to no avail. He goes home to his small, book-filled apartment in order to get ready for work (he’s now a proofreader at a printing plant), but then he receives a call from an irritated Christine. “Don’t tell me you forgot our meeting,” she says. They’re finalizing their divorce that day and, indeed, Antoine forgot. He manages to get there in time, and as they leave the courthouse, he’s spotted by Colette, now a lawyer. She decides to buy a copy of Les Salades de l’amour (or Love and Other Troubles), the autobiographical novel that he started writing in Bed and Board, and she takes it with her on an overnight train trip. Antoine happens to be at the station at the same time, dropping Alphonse (Julien Dubois) off so that the boy can go to music camp. When he sees Colette — smiling at him and holding his book, no less — he impulsively jumps on her train, despite the fact that he doesn’t have a ticket.
On board, the two have a conversation in the dining car, mostly about the book and Antoine’s marital problems. Colette is quite warm and friendly, though she does take issue with the accuracy of some of the things that Antoine has written. She sneaks him into her compartment, where he tells her about his plans for his next novel, The Manuscript Found by a Nasty Kid — allegedly a work of pure fiction about a man who falls in love with a woman after seeing another man tear up her photograph. Before long, however, Colette becomes annoyed with him, and she rejects his request to kiss her. “No, you haven’t changed. You’re as self-centered as ever,” she says during her harangue against him. After pulling the emergency brake and jumping off of the train, Antoine returns to Sabine, but she’s fed up with his selfishness and immaturity too. However, a chance encounter with his mother’s old lover (Julien Bertheau) might give him a new perspective on life.
The most interesting aspect of Love on the Run is the way it examines the crossover between autobiography and fiction, and thereby acts as a commentary on the entire series. Antoine’s book is based on his life, covering the events of the first four films, but as Colette reads about his would-be romance with her, she discovers that he doesn’t always represent these events truthfully. “I decided to forget about Colette completely. True to my promise, I immediately stopped paying the slightest attention to her. But as fate would have it, her parents moved right across the street from me, right opposite my window. I had no choice but to acknowledge their presence and accept their invitations to dinner,” he wrote — the exact opposite of what actually happened in Antoine and Colette. (Similarly, in Bed and Board, while discussing Colette with Christine, he said, “One night I just fell out of love with her. One moment I was in love. An hour later I couldn’t stand her. I was over her.” Upon reuniting with Colette in Love on the Run, however, he says, “You know, I think about you a lot,” which is far more believable.)
When she confronts him about this passage, he admits that he lied. “I guess I thought the story worked better that way. The same way I create one character out of several real people,” says Antoine, who is, himself, one character created out of two real people. He also tells her that the book “is fiction. A bit autobiographical, yes, but fiction nonetheless.” It’s quite similar to some of Truffaut’s comments on the Doinel series; he did, after all, pen an article called “I Did Not Write My Autobiography in The 400 Blows,” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. On the other hand, he, like Antoine, altered some of the real-life material he used, either to improve the stories (the ending of Antoine and Colette is much less bleak than Truffaut’s experience with Liliane Litvin, for example) or to separate Antoine and other characters from himself and his family members, friends and acquaintances. Later in the movie, Antoine tries to talk to Sabine, but she won’t let him come into her apartment. “I can’t say these things out here,” he says. She replies, “Then write them in your book.” The line evokes Janine and Roland Truffaut’s angry reaction to The 400 Blows, as well as Madeleine Morgenstern’s irritation with The Soft Skin — people finding their private lives exposed to the world in the guise of fiction.
To further complicate matters, Truffaut included clips from some of his non-Doinel work in Love on the Run, presenting them as Antoine’s memories. The brief black-and-white footage in which he discovers letters and photographs of his mother’s lover came from Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women, released in 1977, as did some shots of women walking down the street, used to illustrate Antoine’s amorous past. He also drew on Day for Night in a rather complex manner. Actress Dani played Liliane, the girlfriend of Léaud’s character, Alphonse, in the 1973 film. In Love on the Run, she plays Christine’s violin student and new best friend — also named Liliane. Most of the scenes with Liliane are technically flashbacks, as they take place during Antoine and Christine’s marriage, but they were filmed for Love on the Run; however, Antoine and Liliane are seen arguing at one point, and that clip originated in Day for Night. One day, Christine catches them in bed together (Antoine tells her that he was moved by the fact that Liliane used a newsprint dust jacket on a book), putting a definitive end to the Doinels’ marriage. Liliane then lives with Antoine for a while but eventually tires of him. She tells Christine, “He needs a wife, a mistress, a little sister, a nanny and a nurse. I can’t play all those roles at once.” It’s reminiscent of Antoine’s statement to Christine in Bed and Board (“You’re my little sister, my daughter, my mother”), and it’s almost identical to the way Liliane describes Alphonse in Day for Night. (Another Day for Night connection: The director Ferrand, played by Truffaut, jokes that he’ll make a film about Alphonse’s love life and call it Les Salades de l’amour, the title of Antoine’s book.) Truffaut even utilized a clip from another director’s work: The flashback in which Alphonse is riding on Antoine’s shoulders was taken from Bernard Dubois’s Les Lolos de Lola, a 1976 film that featured both Léaud and Julien Dubois, who played Alphonse in Love on the Run.
The clips from the Doinel films themselves are not always used in a straightforward manner. For instance, when Antoine talks about his efforts to track down Sabine after finding her photograph, he does so over a montage of his detective work from Stolen Kisses. In the scene where he talks to his mother’s lover, Monsieur Lucien, the man asks why Antoine didn’t attend her funeral. “It wasn’t my fault,” Antoine says. “I was in a military prison in Germany at the time.” The footage used to illustrate this is from the opening of Stolen Kisses, the humorous scene in which Antoine receives his dishonorable discharge, although none of the blatantly comedic shots are included. There’s no indication that he’s supposed to be lying, but this repurposing of familiar clips is noteworthy in a film where truth and fiction are major themes.
Oddly, Gilberte Doinel’s tombstone says that she died in 1971, three years after Stolen Kisses. It’s one of several aspects of Love on the Run that don’t make sense chronologically. Another involves Antoine’s marriage. He tells Colette, “I was married for five years, then separated three years ago. That is, separated for the first time.” The first time, apparently, was when he had the affair with Kyoko; she isn’t seen or mentioned by name, but the scenes shown are from Bed and Board. Even if Antoine and Christine had been married for five years at that point, that would mean that only three years had passed since then, yet Alphonse — a baby at the time — appears to be nine or ten years old. Again, although he could be lying, there’s no particular reason to think he is. Most bizarre, perhaps, is Monsieur Lucien telling Antoine, “I remember, even at thirteen you always had your nose buried in a book,” with a shot of the boy reading Balzac in The 400 Blows. He’s supposed to be the man Antoine saw his mother kissing on the street (though he’s played by a different actor), but apart from that brief encounter, it’s difficult to believe that he spent any time with the thirteen-year-old Antoine, who was soon sent away to juvenile detention centers and appears to have had very little contact with his parents after that. (For what it’s worth, Antoine mentions that their first real meeting was “at that Édith Piaf concert.”)
Truffaut’s mother did die in 1968, the year of Stolen Kisses (he attended her funeral, albeit reluctantly), and Antoine’s meeting with Monsieur Lucien is clearly a kind of posthumous apology to her:
Monsieur Lucien: The misunderstandings between you two hurt her very much. Actually, a lot of people misunderstood her. They thought she was angry at the whole world, which wasn’t true. She just couldn’t tolerate hypocrisy. So she was sore at everyone: the media, the clergy, shopkeepers, politicians. You might not realize it, but your mother was an anarchist.
Antoine: You may be right, but I never thought of her that way.
Monsieur Lucien: Of course, on a personal level, it was a different story. She was like a little bird. Yes, a little bird.
Later, after Antoine explains why he missed the funeral, Monsieur Lucien says, “Deep down I was sure you cared, because your mother loved you, son. She had a strange way of showing it, but she loved you.” Antoine isn’t entirely convinced. “Monsieur Lucien said my mother was like a little bird. Were we talking about the same person?” he writes to Sabine afterwards, then adds, “But Madame Doinel did teach me one thing: Love is all that matters.” This slightly odd declaration is accompanied by footage from The 400 Blows in which Gilberte behaves affectionately toward Antoine — but only because she wants to keep him quiet about Monsieur Lucien.
Whether or not he really learned about love from Gilberte, it’s no surprise that Antoine is so absolute about the subject. He’s still a romantic: hopping on Colette’s train without a ticket, falling in love with Sabine’s photograph before he meets her or even knows who she is. What is somewhat surprising is his wariness about committing to Sabine, quite unlike his old obsessive self. While reading his book, Colette comes across this pessimistic line: “How do you know you’re in love? Very simple: You start acting against your own best interest.” His cynicism may be a bit of an affectation (“Don’t act like you despise life when you don’t,” Sabine tells him), but it does suggest increased self-awareness. When Colette asks him whether the protagonist of his next book will succeed with the woman he loves, Antoine answers, “He’ll probably win her heart, but once they’re together, they can only expect the usual deceit, disappointment and separation.” Colette offers an astute response: “You sure have a strange idea about relationships. It seems all you care about is the first encounter. Once they’re together, it’s all downhill.”
However, even if Antoine is more conscious of how his relationships tend to play out (“With age comes wisdom!” he tells Sabine at the beginning of the film), it fails to make him more mature in any significant way. He lies (blaming Liliane for breaking up his marriage without mentioning that he had an affair with her), he has a wandering eye (Sabine asks him if he can be faithful to her while they’re separated for three days; he assures her that he can, then inquires, “But didn’t you say you weren’t the jealous type and that I was free? Not that I’m planning anything. I’d just like to know”), he’s irresponsible (forgetting about the meeting to finalize the divorce), he’s selfish (whining when Christine asks him to take Alphonse to the train station). There’s a new weariness to Léaud’s performance that often makes Antoine seem rather pathetic, this grown man adrift in the world, but that doesn’t stop the women in his life from calling him out on his many flaws. “All your little intrigues and quirks tire me out,” says Sabine, who later throws his love letters back in his face, calling them a “pack of lies.” Colette becomes frustrated by his self-absorption and lack of interest in her life: “Who have we been talking about for two hours? You!” Even the remarkably patient and tolerant Christine has to put her foot down sometimes. “I have plans tonight,” he gripes when she wants him to drop Alphonse off, as she’s going to be busy at the conservatory. “Cancel them,” she says. “Alphonse needs you.”
In a 1986 interview, Bernard Revon, who co-wrote Stolen Kisses and Bed and Board, said that Truffaut regarded Antoine “as an outsider, as disturbed, and, in any case, totally irresponsible. Which allowed him to be surprised. He wasn’t an adult at all. He always thought that Doinel was insincere, sometimes mean, unable to accept responsibility, egocentric, but incredibly charming, someone people like. But if you examine Doinel seriously, ironically, he’s not a very nice character. He cheats occasionally, he’s a bit of a liar, but he’s still somewhat sincere.” Claude de Givray, his collaborator, agreed, “Yes, he’s a child. I think that’s why he thought he would end the Doinel stories. Once he reached forty, Antoine wouldn’t be able to go on like that.” Revon added, “He couldn’t be like that anymore. He wouldn’t be forgiven.” Antoine isn’t quite forty in Love on the Run — Léaud turned thirty-four the day before filming began — but it’s clear throughout the movie that he’s reached the point where his childish behavior is unacceptable, even if his charm still buys him a few minutes of indulgence here and there. He does get a happy ending, as Truffaut desired, but the director was not entirely convinced by it. “Oh, I think we can believe it if we want to believe it,” he said in an interview included with the movie’s press notes.
Although it was commercially successful, as intended, Truffaut was dissatisfied with the way the film turned out. “To tell the truth, I wasn’t happy with Love on the Run,” he said on a 1980 episode of the television program Cinescope. “This film was troubling for me. People may well enjoy it, but I’m not happy with it. It didn’t seem like a real film to me. The experimental elements in the film are too pronounced. A film often has an experimental feel in the beginning, but by the end you hope it feels like a real object, a real film, so you forget that it’s an experiment.” The interviewer, René Michelems, replied that it was at least interesting to see Antoine evolve. “Yes, but did he really evolve?” Truffaut asked. “I felt I wasn’t successful in making him evolve. The character started out somewhat autobiographical, but over time it drew further away from me. I never wanted to give him ambition, for example. I wonder if he’s not too frozen, like a cartoon character. You know, Mickey Mouse can’t grow old. Perhaps the Doinel cycle is the story of a failure, even if each film on its own is enjoyable and fun to watch.” However, when Michelems asked, “So we shouldn’t expect a sixth Antoine Doinel?” Truffaut’s answer was not quite as absolute as it was on other occasions: “No, I don’t think so.”
In August of 1983, François Truffaut suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Doctors discovered a malignant brain tumor, and on October 21, 1984, he died at the age of fifty-two. There would be no more Doinels.
During a 2001 interview with Libération, Jean-Pierre Léaud was asked, “After Love on the Run, then Truffaut’s death, what of the character remained with you and in the films that you shot?” He answered, “They still have something of Doinel, an adolescence that will never end. Doinel cannot become a man; that’s why he lives on. It’s a perpetual immaturity.”
De Baecque, Antoine, and Serge Toubiana. Truffaut: A Biography. Trans. Catherine Temerson. New York: Knopf, 1999.
De Givray, Claude, and Bernard Revon. Working with François Truffaut. 1986. Criterion, 2003.
Diatkine, Anne. “François Truffaut, du côté de chez Madeleine.” Libération 10 October 2014.
Le Berre, Carole. François Truffaut at Work. Trans. Bill Krohn. London: Phaidon, 2005.
Peron, Didier, and Antoine de Baecque. “Leaud, retour à Doinel.” Libération 31 August 2001.
Le Roman de François Truffaut. Paris: Editions de l’Etoile, 1985.
Truffaut, François. Correspondence 1945-1984. Trans. Gilbert Adair. New York: Cooper Square, 2000.
Truffaut, François. Interview. Pour le cinéma. 1971.
Truffaut, François. Interview with René Michelems. Cinemonde. 1980.
Truffaut, François. Interview with Simon Mizrahi. Love on the Run Press Notes. 1979.
Truffaut par Truffaut. La Cinémathèque française, 2014.
This post is part of the Criterion Blogathon, hosted by Criterion Blues, Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Click the banner above to see all the other great posts.