Sunday, June 14, 2015

François Truffaut | Baisers volés (Stolen Kisses)

people are wonderful
by Douglas Messerli

François Truffaut, Claude de Givray, Bernard Revon (writers), François Truffaut (director) Baisers volés (Stolen Kisses) / 1968, USA 1969

Truffaut’s third installation of his Antoine Doinel tales begins, once more, with his hero’s run-in with authorities. Arrested for going AWOL—for the third time—Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is finally drummed out, with a dishonorable discharge, of the military. And, true to form, he spends his first moments in his newfound freedom with a prostitute, after rejecting another for her list of things he is not allowed to do (such as touch her hair or fondle her naked breasts). 
      His next step takes him to his friend Christine’s (Claude Jade) dinner table, sitting just as he had at the end of Antoine and Colette, enjoying the company of his beloved’s parents while his would-be lover is off with other friends. Although told that it will be nearly impossible for him, given his military record, to get a job, Antoine quickly procures a position as a night clerk at a small hotel through the help of Colette’s father.

      Once more, he works with the best of intentions, but utterly fails by allowing in two noisy intruders to a woman’s bedroom, the men being her husband and a private detective determined to arouse the attention of the police in order to establish her adultery. Antoine is immediately fired, but is just as quickly hired by the Blady Detective Agency.

      Here too he an utter failure, attempting to follow a person of interest by running from street sign to tree as if to make himself invisible—a bit like the bumbling Inspector Clouseau of the Blake Edwards series—but in the process only drawing attention to himself, and leading the woman he is pursing to report him to the police.
      In another attempt to tail a man, he loses him at a post office when he decides to telephone Christine to apologize for his lack of attention to her the previous evening.
      Finally, he is shuffled off to a job as a “periscope,” pretending to be a stock boy for a shoe shop owner trying to discover, hilariously, why no one seems to like him.

      If Antoine’s sex life, particularly when it comes to “kisses,” is still a stolen one, with quick grabs and sexual lunges, working “undercover,” so to speak, is the best metaphor Truffaut might have chosen, since its subject concerns, basically, tracking down others who live “life on the run,” or, at least, on the sneak. Antoine’s entire life has, so to speak, been undercover, a life without deep emotional commitment or spiritual fulfillment. And, accordingly, particularly when he falls in love with his client’ wife, Fabienne Tabard (Delphine Seyrig)—who after discovering his feelings, readily reciprocates—it hardly surprises us that he himself, once again, becomes the subject of the detective’s pursuit, leading, once more, to his dismissal. 
     Now working as a TV repairman, Antoine, we suspect, is no more suited to this job than he was to his others; but this time, he has finally won the love of Christine, in part because he has moved away for her and even admitted that he no longer “admires her.” With her parents away on a trip, Christine expertly removes an element of her TV set and calls the repair shop. When Antoine shows up for fix it, she finally lures him into her bed, and their relationship finally jells. She clearly has preferred all along to the pursuer instead of the pursued.

     Yet even now that things seem to be improving for the comic loser of Truffaut’s creation, the director hints of a future that may repeat the past. Throughout the film we have been shown that Christine herself is being trailed by a man who behaves just like the other detectives, and we wonder who might be following her and why. As the young couple sit upon a park bench, both finally slowing down to a moment of stasis, the strange man approaches her to declare his eternal love and begs her to marry him. Discomforted by the odd confession, Christine rises, suggesting that the man must be crazy, a statement with which Antoine, somewhat uncomfortably, agrees. He has, of course, been behaving very much like the love-starved man, finding his significance only in the lives of others. He too has been “crazy,” as loveable as he may be. Will Christine be able to endure his personal madness’s. The answer lies in the next of the Doinel movies, Bread and Board; but we already suspect that she is not as amazed at the “wonderfulness” of people, as a character’s mother, earlier in the film, has been reported to have declared on her death bed.
     To love Antoine, the audience certainly now recognizes, one must be able to laugh, a gesture we have seldom seen in the careful demurrals of Christine.

Los Angeles, June 14, 2015

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