Saturday, May 9, 2015

François Truffaut | Domicile Conjugal (Bed and Board)

send me no flowers

by Douglas Messerli

François Truffaut, Claude de Givray, and Bernard Revon (writers), François Truffaut (director) Domicile Conjugal (Bed and Board) / 1970, USA 1971

In Bed and Breakfast—which might have been better translated as something like “The Married Couple’s House”—is the fourth in the series of Trauffaut’s films featuring his loveable character Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud). In this installment, Antoine has finally married to a lover from the previous film, Stolen Kisses, Christine (Claude Jade). If, as Roger Ebert suggested, we might have expected him to grow up as a special and gifted figure, given his youthful life on the streets, he is now one of the bourgeois, happily ensconced in conjugal life and working at a job that is at least moving in the direction of the artistic life he will eventually embrace—even if his artistry here is all about pretense. Working for a nearby flower-seller, Antoine is kept busy dying carnations red and blue, and attempting to discover new mixes and methods to give customers the colors they desire.

     He and Christine live in a noisy courtyard apartment, with neighbors like a practicing opera tenor (Daniel Boulanger); another neighbor who refuses to leave his apartment until Petain is dead and buried, who calls down his messages to Antoine in a booming voice; to a nearby bar maid, who is clearly desperate in her attempts to get Antoine into her bed. Without a telephone, the couple must involve the local bar and their clientele in their everyday communications, and they live, accordingly, in a world a whistles, hoots, and shouts. Adding to this cacophony is Christine, who, being closer to a true artist—a violinist—brings in money by teaching children how to play, despite their mothers’ sometimes purposeful forgetfulness to pay. 
    In fact, one of the running gags of the film—which unfortunately are far too preponderate—is how acquaintances financially take advantage of the friendly couple, particularly of Antoine, by asking for loans which they promise to, but obviously will never pay back.

     Yet it hardly seems to trouble the couple that who pacifically survive on very little: they dine with Christine’s loving parents quite often, and when, at one point late in the film, they run out of food, they dine of their baby’s supper, feeding each other like the children they both still are, spoonfuls of mashed apples and other fruits. In short, they get on the way many young couples do, taking joy in their own slightly bohemian life while basking in the light of each other’s open love.
     When Antoine’s flower-dyeing business fails, he, through a series of accidental misunderstandings, is hired by an American manufacturer who, evidently to represent his business interests to clients, has created a toy ocean, replete with industrially-based harbors and other portside constructions through which Antoine is asked, in his new position, to maneuver toy cargo ships and other ocean-going vessels by remote control. He is, after all, as the film signals, still a child at heart.

      And while he truly loves Christine, he not yet cured himself of his wandering eye, which catches the returned glance of a Japanese tourist, Kyoko (Hiroko Berghauer) who visits his facility, accidentally (?) dropping her bracelet into the miniature ocean which he oversees. Fascinated by her, Antoine retrieves the bracelet and returns it to her. Kyoko is as determined to get Antoine into bed as his neighborly bar maid, and, acting out with geisha-like modesty—we  get a glimpse of another version of her personality as, dressed a leather skirt and open blouse, she tells her roommate, in Japanese only, to get out so she can have the man to herself—plots to get Antoine into bed.  Before you can say “domo arigato” she has succeeded. And soon after the birth of their child, Alphonse (a name willfully changed from her desired choice by Antoine) Christine begins to suspect as much—only to have the entire affair revealed as a bouquet of flowers Kyoko has sent to Antoine, blooms, the small rolled messages she has hidden within the closed blossoms, spilling out onto the dining table.

    Furious with the turn of events, Christine behaves not at all like an accommodating French housewife, but banishes her husband from her bed—and ultimately from her daily life. Soon bored with his mistress, Antoine would love to return, but Christine remains uncertain; and, by  film’s end, even if a temporary reconcilement has appeared to have occurred, we know that the relationship can longer last. Antoine has related to the gifted Christine as a sister, a lover, and a mother, but forgotten that she would love to be simply his wife.

Los Angeles, May 9, 2015

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