Sunday, August 4, 2013

Stolen Kisses (Baisers volés)

STOLEN KISSES (Baisers volés)       B+                   
France  (90 mi)  1968  d:  François Truffaut

Tonight, the wind knocking at my door
speaks to me of past loves
before the dying fire
tonight, an autumn song
quavers through the house
and I think of those bygone days

What remains of our loves?
What of those fine days of yore?
A photo, an old photo, of my youth.
What remains of the love letters
the months of April, the rendez-vous?
A memory that pursues me without fail
a shadow of happiness, windblown hair
stolen kisses, moving dreams
what remains of all these things
do tell me?
a little village, an old bell tower
fields and meadows, well tucked away
and in a cloud, the cherished face
of my past days.

The words, the tender words that are murmured
the caresses purest of the pure
the vows exchanged deep in the woods
the flowers one finds among the pages of a book
whose perfume quakes and stirs
have all blown away, oh why?

—Charles Trénet  “Que Reste-t-il De Nos Amours? (What Remains of Our Love?)”

Making love is a way of compensating for death. You need to prove you still exist.
—Julien (Paul Pavel)

In the third installment of The Adventures of Antoine Doinel where Truffaut continues to use actor Jean-Pierre Léaud as his fictional alter-ego, the director is in a more whimsical mood, creating a sweetly old-fashioned romantic comedy based upon a series of comic misadventures, where the lighthearted tone couldn’t be more completely out of touch with the revolutionary mood of revolt in the streets of Paris during the summer of ’68, though it lingers long in our heads afterwards, as if the images continue.  In the event we didn’t know, the director reminds us this is a memory play with a picturesque shot of the Eiffel Tower and a colorful pan of the rooftops of Paris set to the nostalgic-tinged opening song, Charles Trénet’s “Que Reste-t-il De Nos Amours? (What Remains of Our Love?)” Baisers Voles (Stolen Kisses) - Que Reste-t-il De Nos ... - YouTube (3:15), which becomes Antoine’s theme playing throughout the rest of the film in a lush, heavily-stringed orchestral version.  The opening credit sequence offers a dedication to Henri Langlois, one of the patron saints of cinema, including a shot of the closed Cinémathèque Française, where he worked tirelessly since the 30’s to collect and preserve films, even smuggling films out of Nazi-occupied Paris that would otherwise have been destroyed during the war. 

One of the unifying moments of the May 1968 uprisings in Paris was the firing of Langlois, where New Wave directors joined in the street demonstrations to protest, even halting the prestigious Cannes Film Festival that year, eventually reinstalling the iconic Langlois to his rightful position.  But this is a film that couldn’t be less radical or politically charged, as from the start it’s designed to be an audience pleaser.  By now, Antoine doesn't have any male friends at all, turning instead to surrogate father figures and male employers, but his laser beam focus is set entirely on women.  Antoine is still something of a dreamer who remains in a perpetual state of childhood, still not fitting in, seen with an everpresent book in his hand, where his Army dishonorable discharge interview for repeatedly going AWOL is chronicled in humiliating detail, finally setting him free to roam the streets of Paris, which is where he continually fled anyway to get away from the Army.  While tainted as “temperamentally unfit,” Antoine seems to relish the Army’s judgment, barely able to conceal his laughter, as once more he’s been cast out of yet another dysfunctional family.

Truffaut would have to admit that after the opening scene, this film is less autobiographical and was written specifically with the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud in mind, as he’s finally grown into his tall, lanky frame and become the recognizable poster child for the French New Wave.  Seen here, Doinel’s youthful flitting from one bizarre job to the next, and one obsessive love to the next, is more amusing than sad, as one excuses his behavior on the transgressions of youth.  Antoine has a new obsessive love, Christine Darbon (Claude Jade), who was of course having a real-life romantic affair with the director during the shoot, where they were briefly engaged, but we don’t see her initially as she’s out of town when Antoine comes to visit, but she has nice parents, who greet him warmly and treat him like one of the family, instantly hooking him up with a job as a hotel night clerk.  When they do meet, they’re not at all on the same wavelength, as Christine was deluged and overwhelmed by letters while he was away, receiving as many as 19 in one week, some of which weren’t very nice, suggesting they’d never have a future together.  He fumbles about his feelings in her presence, having another horribly awkward kiss in the wine cellar, becoming awkward and losing his temper before taking flight.  Yet when they’re apart, they are both irresistibly drawn to one another, where they’re better at expressing their feelings in writing than face to face when the words just come out wrong. 

Typically in Truffaut films, when one person is ready to make a commitment to love, the other usually isn’t.  Antoine fumbles through a charade of careers, where he loses the hotel clerk on the very first day on the job, allowing a private detective to talk his way into one of the rooms where an illicit affair is exposed, breaking into the uncontrolled anarchy of a Marx Brothers routine, with the husband attempting to strangle the man caught in bed with his wife, where in no time sheer lunacy breaks out, becoming one of the gestures to improvisation, as Léaud actually takes a tumble offscreen falling flat on his face, where the other characters try to repress their laughter, but it typifies the good-natured fun that this film has.  His next career choice is becoming a private detective, which apparently is all the rage, advertised on the back of the Parisian phone directory, where unhappy characters search for lost love.  Antoine, who couldn’t be more obviously inept when tailing someone, conspicuously hiding behind trees or lamp posts, like a silent film character, only drawing more attention to himself, (one woman quickly points him out to the police), nonetheless becomes consumed with dedicated seriousness towards his new profession, writing descriptive notes that elaborate on everything except the required information. 

When they send him undercover to work as a clerk in a shoe store, investigating why the employees all seem to hate their boss, George Tabard (Michael Lonsdale), it’s like a scene out of Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES (1936), where the qualifications for the job are hilariously determined by the applicant’s ability to gift wrap a shoebox, whereupon he’s immediately selected, though he is the least suitable candidate, as half the box remains unwrapped.  While he lacks any qualifications for the job and couldn’t be more irresponsible, he fits right in with the others who couldn’t care less about working there either.  While hiding to avoid work, he has a reverie moment when he hears a lone woman’s voice singing, as if calling for him in a dream, similar to the Antonioni dream sequence in RED DESERT (1964), and when he follows the voice, Mrs. Fabienne Tabard (Delphine Seyrig) appears like an apparition, a beautiful and sophisticated woman, where she suddenly becomes the woman of his dreams, like a character out of the Balzac book he’s reading where she epitomizes everything he’s learned to expect about rapturous love, remaining ever elusive, yet another woman to obsess over.  When he’s finally alone with her and embarrassingly blurts out the wrong words, he once again takes to flight, a clumsy response to what he sees as forbidden love, thinking she’s “above” the idea of adultery, where alone in his room in a crazed mirror sequence that borders on hysteria, Antoine rapidly repeats the names of Christine Darbon, Fabienne Tabard, and Antoine Doinel, confusing his own identity with the female objects he’s fixated on, seemingly seeking an impossible love. 

Choosing to write a letter to Fabienne to apologize for his behavior and express how he feels, Antoine is actually more comfortable pursuing her like a detective and reading about or writing to Fabienne than actually being with her.  Truffaut interestingly interjects stark realism into fantasy, resorting to a documentary style to show how the underground pneumatic postal system works in Paris, where a letter shoots through an elaborate system of connecting pipes and is delivered almost instantly, as is Fabienne’s bluntly sexual reply.  What follows is a continuation of idealized love, where we’re not sure Antoine ever really figures it out, but the use of the camera crawling up the stairs, step by step, clothes scattered along the way, wandering at first into the wrong room, turning around, and then finding the right room, adds an alluring air of mystery about what happens, where he even ruminates over the idea of responsibility, becoming a picture of domesticated bliss by morning.  In an ironic denouement, with Antoine and Christine sitting happily on a park bench, their backs to the camera, a crazed stalker comes out of the woodworks and offers a bizarre declaration of love to Christine, claiming “We shall never leave each other…not even for an hour,” something of a caricature of Antoine’s own mad obsessions, where we are left to ponder his own impulsive inclinations in this timeless ode to the passion and impetuosity of youth.      

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