The Adventures of Antoine Doinel
captures François Truffaut's alter ego (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud) over the span of five films and 20 years. Truffaut's first feature was The 400 Blows
(1959), in which Doinel is a boy who turns to petty crime in the face of neglect at home and hard times at a reform school. The film helped usher in the heady spirit of the French new wave and introduced the Doinel character. Poignant, exhilarating, and fun (there's a parade of cameo appearances from some of the essential icons and directors from the movement), this film is an important classic.
The second film to feature Doinel, "Antoine and Collette" (1962) was originally made for the omnibus film Love at Twenty but has outlived its companion shorts. As romantic and gently ironic as The 400 Blows is harsh and haunting, this modest 20-minute lark finds a teenage Antoine pursuing the lovely, lithe 20-year-old Colette (Marie-France Pisier) like a lovesick puppy. The comic sweetness of this episode sets the tone for all future Doinel films, and Léaud, who matured into the poster boy for the French new wave, displays the lanky charm and self-effacing egotism that propelled him through some of the greatest films of the next two decades.
Stolen Kisses (1968) opens with the now-grown Doinel sprung from military prison with a dishonorable discharge. He woos the perky but unresponsive object of his affections, Christine (Claude Jade), while he engages in a series of professions--hotel night watchman, private investigator, TV repairman--with mixed success and comic entanglements. But when he falls in love with the elegant wife of his client (Delphine Seyrig), Christine realizes she misses Antoine's persistence and clumsy passes, so she embarks on a seductive plan of her own.
Bed and Board (1970) finds Doinel married to Christine and still plugging away at odd jobs. He learns of his impending fatherhood, but then throws a monkey wrench into his new happiness when he becomes obsessed with a beautiful young Japanese woman (Hiroku Berghauer). Truffaut enlivens Doinel's courtyard apartment with the bustle and business of neighbors and pays homage to comic auteur Jacques Tati. However, he tempers the giddy screwball kookiness with a less forgiving disposition toward Antoine's passionate irresponsibility and emotional impulsiveness.
Love on the Run (1979) was Truffaut's last film in the series. Here, our compulsive liar and general scamp is found out time and time again, but, as the women of the film find, it's impossible to blame him entirely. The film stands on its own as a light comedy but carries much more resonance if watched in its proper place in the series.