Friday, January 25, 2013

The Best Films I Have Never Seen Before: Stolen Kisses (1968)

Stolen Kisses (1968)
Directed by: François Truffaut.
Written by: François Truffaut and Claude de Givray and Bernard Revon.
Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud (Antoine Doinel), Delphine Seyrig (Fabienne Tabard), Claude Jade (Christine Darbon), Michael Lonsdale (Georges Tabard), Harry-Max (Monsieur Henri), André Falcon (Monsieur Blady), Daniel Ceccaldi (Lucien Darbon), Claire Duhamel (Madame Darbon), Catherine Lutz (Catherine).

Francois Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses moves with effortless grace, moving from comedy to harsh truths in the blink of an eye. Stolen Kisses is about love and lust, and how they drive everyone crazy to one degree or another. It is at perhaps Truffaut’s most dreamy and romantic feature – and one of his best.

Back for the third time is Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), who we first saw as a juvenile delinquent in 1959’s The 400 Blows, and then in the 1962 short Antoine et Collette, where he was obsessed with a girl who just wanted to be his friend. We first see Doinel in this film being dishonorably discharged from the army – apparently he had a habit of going AWOL – but Doinel doesn’t seem to much care. He goes straight from the army to the house of Christine (Claude Jade), his one time girlfriend. Her parents are happy to see him, but inform him Christine is away for a few days, but do arrange for Antoine to have a job as night clerk at a hotel. He doesn’t last long there – but he does catch the eye of a Private Detective, who gets Antoine a job with his firm. Antoine isn’t much good at that job either – some of the funniest scenes in the movie are his inept attempts at surveillance – but he tries hard. Eventually, he will be assigned to become a mole at a shoe store – the boss, who hires him, wants to know why everyone hates him so much. Antoine doesn’t really help matters by falling in love with the boss’s wife Fabienne (the great Delphine Seyrig). All this, while he continues in his quest to win back Christine.

Of course, Truffaut based Antoine on himself, and in Stolen Kisses, we see perhaps why Truffaut became a filmmaker – he was horrible at pretty much every other job he had. Antoine isn’t tormented by his family life, like in The 400 Blows, and he isn’t stuck in a cycle of unrequited love, as in Antoine et Collette, but he hasn’t really moved forward either. He signed up for the army because he thought it would fun and romantic – but ended up hating it, and running away. Antoine, in his way, is far too trusting. He gets fired from the hotel because he believed the PI’s story, which we in the audience knows is suspect. And as a surveillance specialist, Antoine fails, because he is far too forward – his marks make him right away, and grow uncomfortable with him following them. They end up losing him in a block or two.

But Stolen Kisses is really about love, and the crazy things it does to people. Antoine and Christine’s relationship is complicated. Like with Collette, her parents seem to like him more than Christine does. Because Antoine’s parents were so bad themselves, he seems to seek the approval of his girlfriend’s parents – trying very hard to make a good impression. But for much of the movie, Christine seems lukewarm to Antoine – not unlike Collette in the previous movie – and Antoine is simply a little lost. He goes to prostitutes, he falls in love with Fabiene, and when finally he has Christine, he isn’t sure he actually wants her. The theme of love making people crazy is seen throughout the movie – the magician’s lover who wants him tailed, and goes crazy when he finds out his lover is married, Fabiene being drawn to Antoine as well, and even down to the final shot, when a stalker confesses his love to Christine – who dismisses him as crazy. But Antoine understands this stalker – and that look on his face seems to suggest that perhaps he wishes he still felt that way. Of course, being infatuated from afar is easy – having a relationship is hard (and I believe that is what the next segment, Bed and Board is about).

Truffaut’s camera moves effortlessly around the streets of Paris. He doesn’t quite shoot it to look as romantic as Woody Allen in the recent Midnight in Paris, but he certainly does capture the magic and romance of the city – just not in quite the way we are accustomed to. I admit, it took me a little time to warm up to Truffaut, but now that I am hooked, I cannot wait to continue to explore his work. Stolen Kisses was masterful, and yet effortless. I hope the next installment is as good.

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