Friday, February 22, 2013

The Best Movies I Have Never Seen Before: Bed and Board (1970)

Bed and Board (1970)
Directed by: François Truffaut.
Written by: François Truffaut and Claude de Givray and Bernard Revon.
Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud (Antoine Doinel), Claude Jade (Christine Darbon Doinel), Hiroko Berghauer (Kyoko), Barbara Laage (Monique), Danièle Girard (Ginette), Daniel Ceccaldi (Lucien Darbon), Claire Duhamel (Madame Darbon)

Once Antoine Doinel gets what he wants, he doesn’t want it anymore. He is happier in his misery of not having what he wants than in actually succeeding in getting it. In Bed and Board, his fourth appearance in Francois Truffaut’s films, we see that Doinel has what he wanted in the previous three films – The 400 Blows, Antoine et Collette and Stolen Kisses – a family. Someone to love. And he almost immediately ruins that.

In The 400 Blows, Antoine was a strangely passive juvenile delinquent, rebelling against any situation he found himself in, and yet never becoming violent – avoiding decisions at all costs. In Antoine et Collette, he was in love with a girl who just wanted to be friends – and is devastated when he finally realizes it. In Stolen Kisses, he bounces around from job to job, from his desire to have Christine (Claude Jade) and to sleep with his boss’ wife (Delphine Seyrig). Antoine loves being in love – but he doesn’t know how to be in a relationship. Perhaps that’s why he seems so comfortable with prostitutes.

Bed and Board opens with Antoine and Christine being married. They live in a small apartment, and the first third of the movie involves their happy, little life together, that all revolves around their apartment and the little courtyard outside, where Antoine works dying flowers. They have a strange assembly of neighbors, that could probably only exist in the movies. Then Christine tells Antoine she is pregnant – and he is thrilled. He loses his job dying flowers, and through a mix up gets a job with an American company, which consists mainly of him driving toy boats around in a large, outdoor model. While he loves his son, Alphonse, when he is born, he is also drawn to Kyoko (Hiroko Berghauer), a Japanese woman who visits the firm. He embarks on an affair with her, which will cause Christine to throw him out when she discovers the truth. Almost immediately, Antoine tires of Kyoko – she is so polite, says thank you all the time, and he’s getting tired of eating on the floor. He wants Christine back, even though just a short while ago, he wanted out of the marriage that was stifling him, and into the affair with the exotic Kyoko. Some men just cannot be happy.

What is most interesting about the Antoine Doinel series is how different each entry is to each other, while at the same time definitely being apart of a whole. The 400 Blows was sad, realistic film about a boy that was unwanted and unloved. Antoine et Collette was a comic film about unrequited love. Stolen Kisses was a beautiful, wistful comedy about the insanity of love. And now Bed and Board is about a man who can never be happy with what he has – who always wants something else. Together, they form a portrait of Antoine as a man who never knows what he wants – who has trouble making decisions. He is even confused when he goes to a brothel in this film, and has to choose which prostitute he wants when they all line up in front of him. He is the most passive of movie characters, as he simply lets everything wash over him – let’s others take the lead, as he drifts from one event to another, with forethought. As Doinel, Jean Pierre Leaud is pretty much perfect. By this point, the role fit him like a glove, and he does an excellent job navigating Antoine’s passiveness. Claude Jade, as Christine, is perhaps even better than Leaud in this film. She was the unattainable beauty in Stolen Kisses, but in Bed and Board, she becomes a real character. A woman with thoughts and feelings, who is hurt by how Antoine treats her. There is something going on beneath that beauty.

The movie ends, I suppose, on a happy note. But perhaps not really. Antoine and Christine are back together, but are they in love? Is Antoine capable of loving Christine? Of loving anyone? I guess, I’ll have to watch the final installment, Love on the Run, to find out.

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