Antoine et Colette is available now on BFI Player.
The 400 Blows is rightly considered a seminal film in the French New Wave movement and one of the greatest movies of all time. Exploring the world of Antoine Doinel, a rascal of the highest order, a proto-Bart Simpson if ever there was one, the film captures the highs and lows (and blows) of the tricky intersection between childhood and adult life. The finale in which Doinel escapes the boy’s home of his imprisonment only to run to a beach and realise how truly trapped he is could have been a fitting end for the character in what is one of the most heartbreaking and iconic endings in world cinema.
However, director François Truffaut had the wisdom to know that although these moments of adolescent anguish are brutal and seemingly impossible to reconcile with, life goes on whether we like it or not. Hence Doinel returned for four sequels, charting the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud’s growth in a way Richard Linklater could only dream of.
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Truffaut delivers one of the greatest portrayals of disastrous first love ever committed to celluloid in the first of these sequels, Antoine et Collette. Doinel is now living a seemingly ideal teen life. He’s left his tumultuous home and is now living solo in Paris, filling his days with books and music. A teenager free from parents and school, Doinel is living a true fantasy life; he is almost a precursor to Ferris Bueller.
However, this chill way of life comes crashing down when he spots Collette at a music concert. Enchantingly performed by Marie-France Pisier, Collette is the girl of young Antoine’s dreams. Not only does she enjoy all the things absent in Antoine’s life – a loving home life and academic success – she is also way cooler than he can ever hope to be.
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Effortlessly chic and charming, Colette has Antoine’s undivided attention and adoration. Antoine’s desire to be with her leads to bizarre lengths, even going as far as to move to an apartment opposite her family home to be closer to her. Despite his best efforts and the hopes of Colette’s parents, who have come to consider Doinel, a surrogate son, Colette never reciprocates his feelings. Doinel’s journey may have continued after this, but this was by far his most arduous chapter, surpassing even his later marital woes.
Based on his own teenage experiences, Truffaut intended this tale to be “one that would illustrate the moral: you risk losing everything by wanting too much.” It’s easy to see how this moral forms the backbone of Antoine et Colette, yet at its heart, this is an ode to the impossible one-sided love affairs that are so formative to teenagers, making this a thoughtful and concise addition to the coming of age sub-genre.