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On-Screen Development: Francois Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses (1968) – Blu-ray review

August 21, 2014 by Simon Kinnear in At Home, Retro with 0 Comments

Antoine Doinel returns to find he’s grown up – and so has the French New Wave, practically mainstream as Truffaut engineers a lovely, light comedy for his alter-ego.

Stolen Kisses
(Francois Truffaut, 1968)

From Harry Potter through to Boyhood, the idea endures: to cast an actor while they are young, and to film them as they make the transition into adulthood. But Francois Truffaut did it first. It’s worth noting that, amongst the many radical departures from cinematic norms that made their debut during the French New Wave, this is perhaps the movement’s simplest and most profound legacy.

Truffaut had first reunited with the young star of The 400 Blows, Jean-Pierre Léaud’s Antoine Doinel, in Antoine et Colette, a short devised for portmanteau movie Love At Twenty (and sadly not included here, although it is on the way: for more on that, read on). You can feel, though, that the itch hadn’t gone, hence this feature-length sequel, an expansion of the short’s theme of relationships that now takes in the difficulty of getting on in life and in work in a man’s early twenties.

It is striking how much Léaud still resembles the Doinel of The 400 Blows; there’s a furtiveness about his movements, not so much shy as secretive, a guy compelled by experience to distrust people’s motives in wanting to know more. He also remains an anti-authoritarian rascal, pulling faces at military and seemingly incapable of holding down a job due to his unyielding bad luck. But those circumstances combine to give Doinel a job as a private detective: a development that replaces The 400 Blows‘ verisimilitude with something approaching farce.

The job is a funny, apt choice, giving Truffaut an excuse to fill the film with unusual characters and narrative tangents, while serving to educate Antoine in the ways of the world – specifically, the importance of finding somebody faithful when everybody has their hidden agendas.  In fact, Antoine already knows her: the lovely, tender-hearted Christine Darbon (Claude Jade), a newcomer in the film but already immersed in an on-off relationship with Antoine. It’s an interesting choice to give them a history, underlining the sense that Antoine exists beyond the parameters of the screen, the continuation of a life witnessed as junctures but in fragments.

Still, this is a very different film from The 400 Blows – but why not? Harry Potter is forever bound by genre constraints; Boyhood‘s linearity stressed the character’s continuity. But Truffaut is free to drop in after several years and find Antoine changed… or, at least, changing, because that’s what happens to people. Arguably, it’s possible to enjoy Stolen Kisses as a stand-alone project: an enjoyable if slight comedy of manners. The resonance comes less from what we see on-screen than from what it is kicking against: the memory of the past.

That applies equally to Truffaut.  This was always going to be a more mainstream film than the tradition-smashing 400 Blows, simply because Truffaut and Léaud (not to mention co-star Delphine Seyrig, similarly transformed overnight into a New Wave sensation by Last Year At Marienbad) had become the establishment. Nearly a decade on, Leaud was a star and Truffaut the spokesperson for French cinema.  Accordingly, the director dials back the stylistic flourishes and instead concentrates on maintaining the film’s fluid, effervescent tone. Léaud, meanwhile, recaptures the charm of his breakthrough so thoroughly he starts to resemble the old-school grace of Golden Age Hollywood rather than a hell-raising enfant terrible.

Stolen Kisses joins a bumper crop of Truffaut Blu-rays on August 25th.  As for Antoine et Colette, Artifical Eye marketing boss Paul Diment tweeted to tell me it’ll appear as an extra on the next Antoine Doinel film, Bed And Board.

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