Love at Twenty, a five-part emotionless inspection of passion, is a strange blend of the plausible and the surreal. Five directors, each from a different country, have contributed to this study, and the contributions are almost chaotically diverse.
The chaos, and the brevity of each segment of the picture, are part of the reason why love emerges from this picture as a frail, hollow, unexciting animal. It takes time to develop the conditions for love, either in life or cinema, and the lack of time, combined with sudden switches in circumstances, countries, and mood, weaken the potential power of this film.
The movie is hardly the definitive exposition of young love claimed by the press releases. With one exception, all of the segments relate stories of unusual if not bizarre situations. The emotion experienced by the principals is not always recognizable as love.
Francois Truffaut's French segment is the one almost common tale of the five, and it is told with delicacy if not warmth. A young factory worker falls in love with a girl he meets at concerts, but he never succeeds in transforming their relationship from one of copains to amants.
Perhaps the reason Truffaut does not quite achieve the pathos he strives for is the fact his camera views an almost too ordinary world. Every aspect of the shy factory boy is so faithfully depicted that it seems natural his love will be unanswered. Only in the movies would such romance succeed.
If Truffaut is too common, Director Shintario Ishihara is shockingly removed from normal experience in his Japanese segment. A Japanese factory worker this time is unable to make contact with the girl student he secretly loves and eventually kills her, achieving intimacy with his love object only after totally conquering her.
Ishihara's segment is the most powerful, although also the most unconvincing, in the series. Building on the surrealism in the script with sharp lighting and an enquiring camera, Ishihara places his characters in a nether-nether land, suspended between a nightmare and reality.
The German sequence, directed by Marcel Ophuls, lacks some of the phychological subtleties of the others, but is one of the most effective. Basically the simple story of a playboy who unexpectedly falls in love with a girl after she bears his child, Ophul's segment almost conveys a spirit of warmth. His lovers laugh, argue, have secrets, and do foolish things. They also kiss, which is an act rarely included in this film of love.
Andrzej Wajda's Polish section is a bit wooden and contrived, and the stark background of Warsaw is no setting for a young romance. The Italian sequence, by Renzo Rossellini, is predictably decadent, involving the passion of a kept man for a new, younger mistress.
Despite several outstanding acting performances, Love at Twenty fails to create a lasting impression. Its sketches are too fleeting, too suddenly intense, and too forced. But perhaps these are the characteristics of actual love at 20.