Much like her character captivated Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), Francois Truffaut's autobiographical alter ego, actress Claude Jade delighted international audiences when she made her film debut as Christine, Antoine's on-again, off-again girlfriend, in Truffaut's intoxicatingly bittersweet Stolen Kisses (1968). She and Leaud share one of the most delightfully disorienting scenes in the entire Truffaut canon when, at the very end of the film, she is confronted by a benign stalker who, without provocation or encouragement, walks up to her in the park one day, announces his undying love, promises to be available whenever she might beckon -- and then walks away. "He's mad," Christine tells Antoine. Antoine agrees, but the audience cannot help wondering: Didn't he just experience a jarring shock of recognition? Didn't that stranger merely give voice to what the wildly romantic Antoine also feels for this magical woman? (And I don't use that adjective arbitrarily: In the world according to Francois Truffaut, women are magic.)
Truffaut reportedly fell pretty hard for Jade himself -– hey, who could blame him? –- but that’s certainly not the only reason why he brought her back for two subsequent chapters of the Antoine Doinel saga. (A saga that began, of course, back in 1959 with The 400 Blows.) In Bed and Board (1970), the marriage of Antoine and Christine is threatened by his infidelity – the guy can’t help falling in love again and again – and she is driven to desperate measures to rekindle their romance. (A moment both uproariously comical and unspeakably sad: Mindful that he is having an affair with a Japanese beauty, Christine decks herself out as a faux Madame Butterfly to greet him one evening in their apartment.) But in Love on the Run (1979), Christine’s patience is spent, the marriage is dissolved – in the opening scene, no less – and Antoine must finally recognize the evanescence of passion. And yet, even as Antoine realizes that the perfect romantic love he has always pursued is an unattainable ideal, he doesn’t consider that a good enough reason to discontinue his pursuit.
Jade remained active on stage and screen in her native France for more than a quarter-century after Love on the Run. (She died Friday after a long battle with cancer.) Indeed, Internet Movie Data Base credits her with some 85 TV and film appearances throughout her entire career. I would argue, however, that with the exception of her supporting turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz (1969) -– which, by unfortunate coincidence, also featured the recently deceased Philippe Noiret – nothing else on her resume had an impact comparable to her enduringly affecting portrayal of the woman Antoine Doinel loved and lost. She was magical. And because she remains immortal on film, she is magical.