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It can't be said that Francois Truffaut took it easy on himself in Love on the Run (1979), his fifth and final semi-autobiographical film with Jean-Pierre Leaud as his cinematic alter ego, Antoine Doinel. As the cycle traced Doinel from loveless childhood (The 400 Blows) (1959), to first love (Love at Twenty) (1962), to marriage (Stolen Kisses) (1968), to infidelity (Bed and Board) (1970), to frantically scrambling, post-divorce, after the next woman (Love on the Run), the inflamed ardor that had a certain puppy-like charm through Doinel's twenties has grown a bit bedraggled by the time he has reached 35, as we find him still chasing skirts.
In interviews and letters, Truffaut said he never was completely satisfied with the film, which quite apart from its obvious parallels to him (and, he insisted, Leaud as well) does not bathe him in a flattering light. That he was motivated by his unresolved feelings for his own mother, and, although no great fan of psychoanalysis, knew it, provides the film with one of its most touching scenes when Doinel meets his late mother's lover (Julien Bertheau), who exists only peripherally in The 400 Blows, lunches with him, and posthumously reconciles with his mother a bit after hearing the old man describe the woman young Doinel had resented and regarded as emotionally unavailable to him as "a bird" and "an anarchist."
Truffaut also later wrote he felt bad about handing Leaud a poison pill of a role here. Not that the film altogether stemmed from autobiographical compulsion. Truffaut's previous film, The Green Room (1978) was a flop. He needed a success, and figured Doinel's reappearance would pre-sell the film. He was right. It was a hit, buttressing his company's shaky finances. Nonetheless, it mostly got a critical shellacking, not so much because it was so self-referential, but because Truffaut, in the eyes of many, did not create enough of a film there. Actually, it reprises female characters not just from the Doinel films, but from other Truffaut productions - most notably, Marie-France Pisier (who co-wrote the script), Claude Jade, and the single-name actresses Dani and Dorothee, who find the intensity of Doinel's wooing an aphrodisiac.
The difference is that the women see beyond it, and Doinel can't. He's in love, but doesn't know where to go with it once he gets it, so takes his emotions and runs - to the next woman, with whom he repeats the same scenario of hot pursuit followed by a depressing cooling-off period. As Love on the Run opens, he is putting the finishing touches on his divorce from Jade's violinist wife, Christine. The great love of his teenage life, Pisier's Chloe, now a judge, meets up with him after he drops his young son off at a train for summer camp, spots her aboard a different train pulling out, hops it impetuously, and turns on the heat. She's tempted, but laughs at him, brandishing his second book, Les Salades de l'Amour, pointing out that it's centered solely on him.
"You write well," she tells him, not unkindly, "but you won't be a real writer until you write something that's all fiction." All the women in his life have his number. Says Jade's Christine, who was nicer to him than Chloe: "Writing to settle old scores is not art." The literary criticism is augmented by Dani's Liliane, a violin student of Christine's, who declares, "He wants everyone to make up for his unhappy childhood," casting, she adds, every woman he meets as wife, wet nurse and kid sister. Were it not for Dorothee's Sabine, a sprightly clerk in a record shop, the film would spend all its time looking in a rear-view mirror, raking through the rubble of Doinel's failed relationships. Thanks to her sunny disposition, and ability to not let Doinel's prickly, tense, frantic ways get to her too much, he has a chance to create fresh rubble, and is well on his way to doing just that.
Truffaut was 46 when he filmed Love on the Run. Six years later, he died after making three more films - The Last Metro (1980), The Woman Next Door (1981) and Confidentially Yours (1983). Health problems sapped him during the last few years of his life. Where, he must have wondered, would he - much less Doinel - have been able to go? Realizing that Doinel was essentially spinning his wheels, and running out of time, Truffaut compensated by picking up the pace to silent comedy momentum. To Alain Souchon, the popular singer who wrote and sings the film's title song, he wrote: "Doinel is always on the run, always late, always a man in a hurry; the notion of flight is to be understood in every possible sense: time flying, always being projected into the future, always anxious (never content!), never calm, and also love flying out the window. . . also flight in movement; however much you try to flee from your problems they're always right behind you, pursuing you, etc."Love on the Run, dashing helter-skelter around Paris alongside Doinel, is also in large part a summing-up film. It draws extensively on clips from the previous four Doinel films, not just reprising them, but sometimes recontextualizing them and including material not in the originals. It also contains clips from Truffaut's film about filmmaking, Day for Night (1973). The latter is the source for the same speech Liliane delivers about her breakup with Leaud's character in both films. Truffaut hasn't entirely succeeded in solving the problem, as he put it, of "building a film with pieces that already exist."
And although he doesn't quote The Green Room, that film's theme of memory kept alive, shaping the present, is a strong element, too, especially when Truffaut slices and dices time to give us different versions of the same action (Doinel's finding a ripped-up photo of a girl in a phone booth, for instance, and putting alternative spins on it). In The Green Room, memory fills the life of the protagonist played by Truffaut. Not so different in substance from Love on the Run being filled with flashbacks of the earlier Doinel films. It's flawed, but Doinel's intoxication with what he thinks is love in the earlier films is replaced here by the joy of story-weaving delighting in itself. In the end, Love on the Run is kept watchable by the sprightliness of its scissors-and-paste portrait of a scissors-and-paste life.
Producer: Francois Truffaut
Director: Francois Truffaut
Screenplay: Francois Truffaut, Marie-France Pisier, Jean Aurel, Suzanne Schiffman (scenario)
Cinematography: Nestor Almendros
Music: Georges Delerue
Film Editing: Martine Barraque
Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud (Antoine Doinel), Marie-France Pisier (Colette Tazzi), Claude Jade (Christine Doinel), Dani (Liliane), Dorothee (Sabine Barnerias), Daniel Mesguich (Xavier Barnerias), Julien Bertheau (Monsieur Lucien), Jean-Pierre Ducos (L'avocat de Christine), Marie Henriau (La juge du divorce), Rosy Varte (La mere de Colette).
BW and C-96m. Letterboxed.
by Jay Carr
Truffaut: A Biography, by Antoine de Beacque and Serge Toubiana, Knopf, 1999
Francois Truffaut, by Annette UInsdirf, Touchstone, 1989
Francois Truffaut - Correspondence: 1945-1984, edited by Gilled Jacob and Claude de Givray, Noonday Press, 1990
Finally Truffaut, by Don Allen, Beaufort, 1985