Hapless, frustrated romantic Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) has a new girlfriend, Sabine (Dorothée), yet remains on friendly terms with ex-wife Christine (Claude Jade) with whom he has a son. Ever jittery and insecure, Antoine seems on the verge of bungling yet another relationship until a chance encounter with his teenage love, Colette (Marie-France Pisier) sets in motion a string of events that bring about a happy end.
With L'amour en fuite (Love on the Run) iconoclastic French auteur François Truffaut closed the chapter on his semi-autobiographical series of films starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, master of the hang-dog look, as Antoine Doinel. Much as Truffaut was by this point no longer the angry young agitator of the Nouvelle Vague but entrenched in the French film establishment, his screen alter-ego now seemed well and truly part of the bourgeoisie and far from the disenfranchised youth of The 400 Blows (1959). Detractors found it harder to empathise with the mature Antoine claiming he now suffered from "rich guy problems." Moping about being unable to finish your next novel or fretting over which of three gorgeous, kind, intelligent, fascinating women to settle down with are light years away from the troubles of a neglected, poverty-stricken child. Yet, in Truffaut's eyes, that was the whole point.
Truffaut often remarked that Antoine Doinel was never comfortable in any regular, ordinary domestic situation having always perceived himself as an outsider riddled with all sorts of anxieties. At one point in the film Colette says that Antoine is determined to make the world and everyone around him suffer for his miserable childhood even though, were he to take an objective look at his present life, things did not turn out so bad. Love on the Run has Antoine finally come to terms with his anxieties and learn to accept that since he is not an angry little boy anymore he has no excuse for behaving like one. The time has finally come for Antoine Doinel to grow up and settle down. What the film perhaps lacks in profundity or sociopolitical insight it makes up for in charm. As a reaction to his rather grim previous film, The Green Room (1978), Truffaut delivered one of his breeziest and heart-warming comedies laden with sprightly comic episodes (Antoine recounting the plot of his novel directly to camera is especially amusing) and appealing, multifaceted characters.
The film has an engagingly benign view of relationships while Truffaut's love of women is evident through the gallery of vibrant, complex female characters charmingly inhabited by the likeable cast. Although occasionally exasperated with Antoine, none of the women bear him any ill will and in a rather sweet development actually engineer his eventual happy ending. Unlike in conventional romantic comedies Truffaut takes care to ensure his heroines are not defined solely through their interaction with the male lead. Each has a life and concerns outside the central relationship with the hitherto somewhat haughty and unattainable Colette given greater complexity, mourning a personal tragedy and struggling to express her feelings for a seemingly disinterested bookseller (the clod). In fact the radiant Marie-France Pisier contributed to the screenplay. Truffaut indulges in a little post-modern tomfoolery, e.g. a sub-plot where Christine toils as a production designer on Eric Rohmer's stylized Medieval fable Perceval (1978) and a closing gag that has Sabine play Alain Souchon's theme song at her record shop, but this is largely about his affection for the characters. Flashbacks to earlier episodes in the series, Antoine and Colette (1962), Stolen Kisses (1968), Bed and Board (1970), allow for the poignant contrast fresh-faced youth and young love with the slightly jaded lives led today. On the downside this shameless recycling of footage occasionally makes the film seem like a 'cheater' episode of a sitcom. Still, it is a charming and wistful farewell for Antoine Doinel with Leaud appealingly vulnerable as the comic hero.