Monday, August 5, 2013

Bed & Board (Domicile conjugal)

BED & BOARD (Domicile conjugal)       B-                                        
France  Italy  (100 mi)  1970  d:  François Truffaut

I don’t know what boredom is!  I’ve heard people talk about it, but I don’t know what it is. There's always something to do:  cut the pages of a book, do crossword puzzles, take notes. I wish there were 30 hours in a day, ‘cause I never get bored! I can’t wait to get old so I can get by on five hours’ sleep! Why am I even discussing this? I’m going to the bathroom.
—Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud)

If I commit suicide with someone, I’d like it to be you.         
—Kyoko (Hiroko Berghauer)

When things started to go wrong, instead of fixing them, I got scared and made them worse.  —Christine (Claude Jade)

Continuing on the comical misadventures of Antoine Doinel, BED & BOARD is Truffaut’s picture of marital bliss, as Antoine and Christine (Jean-Pierre Léaud and Claude Jade), the couple at the end of Stolen Kisses (Baisers volés) (1968), have already married and are happily living together in Paris.  Originally targeted as the end of the cycle, as marriage is the established and customary outlet for love, but Truffaut discovered he cheated in marriage as well, as he had affairs with almost all his leading ladies, so what appears on the surface as a sunny romantic comedy turns into a melancholic critique of the suffocating and stifling effects of marriage.  In his quest for the perfect woman, Truffaut discovered perfection doesn’t really exist except in dreams, where in his case the disappointments only lead to eternal loneliness, continually plagued by thoughts of being unloved.  Perhaps Truffaut was happiest when he worked, consumed by the latest project as he carried on an interchangeable romantic affair with the leading lady of the day, while also attempting to put back together the dysfunctional pieces of his own marriage.  Rather than delving into the dramatic complexities of marriage, like Bergman’s SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973), Truffaut chooses instead to paint a superficial portrait that is both breezy and entertaining while also making a personal and somewhat confessional statement.  The opening feels like Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW (1954), where the married couple leads a very public life in harmony with their neighbors, as characters spill out of doorways and windows, carrying on a collective conversation that seemingly never ends, all sharing the same communal phone on the ground floor café, as Antoine runs a sidewalk flower shop situated in the middle of a courtyard building.  He remains the center of attention, but rather than an examination of their lives, it’s more about comic timing, establishing a quick pace where characters feel rushed, as people are leading busy lives, where conversation is equally fast paced, veering towards screwball comedy, though, in truth, it’s not nearly as funny nor as complex as Stolen Kisses (Baisers volés), bogged down by the meaningless and listless lives of the bourgeoisie.   
Perhaps unintentionally, Truffaut comments upon the publicly displayed misogynist behavior of the French, where they are next door neighbors with an opera singer who is routinely seen pacing the hallway before storming ahead of his wife on the stairs, throwing her mink coat and purse down the stairs as an act of disgust as he continually leaves her behind, where she’s seen hurriedly catching up with him on the street, eventually strolling down the sidewalk arm in arm.  In another scene, an office manager openly fondles a secretary’s breasts in front of everyone, which is viewed as customary behavior, where French women are expected to fend off sexual advances from men, even in the workplace.  In contrast, the marital home is seen as a safer and more stable environment, as Christine plays violin and provides private lessons to children, where they are again welcomed with open arms at her parent’s home for dinner, where Antoine has basically married into the family he never had.  When they have their first child, they haggle over the child’s name, where Alphonse (a character Jean-Pierre Léaud later plays in Truffaut’s subsequent 1973 film DAY FOR NIGHT) becomes the consensus choice because he picked it, and anyone who has seen a Jean-Pierre Léaud performance knows that he’s a narcissistic, self-centered prima dona that always gets his way, and when he doesn’t, he carries on like it’s a devastating human catastrophe, where women eventually give in to his persistence simply to stop him from his adolescent fixation of continually hitting on women.  While the marriage seems on steady ground, there’s nothing really happening under the surface, where the marriage is more about what’s expected of them, as it hardly represents any kind of mutual collaboration, where Antoine is not one to make sacrifices.  When Christine pulls him into the wine cellar to recreate that kiss from Stolen Kisses (Baisers volés), it’s an ordinary moment quickly forgotten in Antoine’s eyes, as he has other things on his mind, where he’s writing a novel at night after Christine goes to bed called Love and Other Problems, an intensely personal and autobiographical means to get even with his parents, to which Christine comments, “writing a book to settle old scores isn’t art!”           

With a new baby, Antoine embarks on a new job, which he only gets due to a misunderstanding by the employer, a comical misdirection of sorts that lands him a job working for an American hydraulics company where he is given a seemingly arbitrary job, like something somebody would make up as opposed to a “real” job, yet much like his make believe detective in the previous episode, he is assigned the remote control to maneuver toy boats in a miniature scaled outdoor harbor designed by the American boss.  It’s little more than a fountain display on the outside lawn of the office building, or an outdoor pool with goldfish living in it, as it’s a business custom to find a pleasing and often playful décor as a contrast to the mundane and dreary world of business.  When Antoine mentions that he has to work late, it’s a jaw dropping confession that even a child could fathom, as what’s there to do at night with his remote when the customers are gone?  At any rate, this feels like it was an attempt at a whimsical style, as are a series of random appearances by bizarre characters, such as a Jacques Tati impersonator on a subway platform dressed as Monsieur Hulot, and as is Antoine’s sudden infatuation with a Japanese client, Kyoko (Hiroko Berghauer), who is simply a different woman paying attention to him.  Their first night together is preceded by an interesting unsubtitled exchange between Kyoko and her Japanese roommate, where it appears the roommate is getting the boot for the night to make way for a planned and calculated evening of sexual intrigue.  When Christine discovers the affair, Antoine claims the exotic Kyoko is not “just another woman,” but “another world,” gaining little sympathy from Christine who is crushed by the lies and deception, eventually destroying their marriage.  Finding it pointless to stay when he’s not wanted, so he behaves like he always does when he senses trouble, he bolts.  What he discovers, of course, is that life with Kyoko is no great picnic, as it’s a relationship defined by a lack of communication, where the illusion is stronger than the reality, and he soon tires of her as well, brilliantly expressed by a scene where he’s forced to eat while sitting on the floor.  For a guy whose life is all about comfort, he couldn’t be more uncomfortable, seen grimacing and struggling, not knowing what to do with his feet.  Truffaut cleverly designs an absurdly comic marital reconciliation scene with Antoine and Kyoko at a restaurant, where Antoine continually excuses himself during dinner to call Christine from a pay phone on the premises, complaining about how miserable he feels without her, where once more the pattern is absence makes the heart grow fonder, as only when they’re apart are they passionately drawn to one another.  By the end they’re back together again, but when Antoine starts exhibiting the same impatient behavior as the neighbor, throwing Christine’s things down the stairs as Antoine storms down the stairs without her, one somehow gets the feeling he’s more trapped than ever. 

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