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BED AND BOARD
The Adventures of Antoine Doinel Collection

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claude Jade, Mademoiselle Hiroko
Director: François Truffaut
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.66:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: behind-the-scenes footage, TV excerpt, interview with Léaud, documentary excerpt, trailer
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: April 29, 2003

"I don't like this business of writing about your childhood, dragging your parents through the mud.  I don't know much, but one thing I do know - if you use art to settle accounts, it's no longer art."

Film *** 1/2

François Truffaut, with the success of 1968's Stolen Kisses, entered one of the most memorable and exciting periods of his life.  Not only had the film been well received by audiences and critics alike, but Truffaut's demonstrations to save the French Cinémathèque and his protests over the Cannes Festival that same year had also greatly re-energized him.  No doubt, his high spirits were further boosted by the recent affections of Claude Jade, his female lead for Stolen Kisses.  Feeling rejuvenated and revitalized, Truffaut embarked upon a new and highly productive phase in his career.  Over the next two-year span, he would make four movies in rapid succession, one of which would be Bed and Board (1970), the next chapter in the adventures of Antoine Doinel.

The premise for the film can be partially attributed to Henri Langlois, director of the Cinémathèque.  He had remarked to Truffaut, after having previewed Stolen Kisses, that he was very interested in seeing the first few months of married life for Antoine.  Since Stolen Kisses had concluded with Antoine's engagement to his longtime sweetheart, Christine, Bed and Board would pick up the story shortly after their marriage.

At the start of Bed and Board, Antoine and Christine now share an apartment in a quaint courtyard community.  The surrounding homes are inhabited by the typically quirky eccentrics who frequently pop up in comedies.  There is Ginette, a feisty waitress fixated upon Antoine.  In contrast, there is an old cop who scoops around and has an eye on Christine ("I'd lay her badly, but I'd lay her gladly.").  There is Desbois, the elderly recluse who will not come out of his apartment until the French Marshall Pétain is given a proper burial at Verdun.  There are the feisty Italian neighbors, a punctual husband who paces the lobby halls in ceaseless exasperation at his habitually tardy wife.  There is the mysterious, Fonzie-looking character that everyone mistrusts and nicknames "The Strangler."  All in all, the setting has the earmarks of a nice TV sitcom.

As for our young couple, Antoine and Christine may struggle a bit to make ends meet, but they are obviously very happy together.  Christine now provides private violin lessons in between her own concert performances while Antoine runs a funny little flower shop below their apartment.  He dyes the flowers to make them more appealing and dreams of a get-rich-quick scheme by one day achieving an Absolute Red flower.  It is a rather bourgeois existence for the former troublesome child of The 400 Blows.

Antoine's latest aspiration is to become an author, perhaps a reflection of his earlier joy of reading.  He is currently working on a novel that will draw from his own life experiences, particularly his uneasy childhood and turbulent relationship with his parents.  It's a case of art imitating life (in this case, Truffaut's).  In comparison, Bed and Board has a minor character, a struggling writer, who re-appears several times.  He consistently asks Antoine for money each time they meet on the streets.  Though the scenes are played for comic effect, this loner could just as easily be Antoine in a few years, a social outcast who eventually alienates even his friends.  Truffaut is offering a self-deprecating comment, for just as the semi-autobiographical The 400 Blows resulted in a severe deterioration in Truffaut's relationship with his own parents, so Antoine too has many unresolved feelings about his own parents and troubled childhood.  Creating a novel out of those experiences, Truffaut implies, may cause more harm than good.  It is a piercingly personal observation and one which will not be resolved until Love on the Run, the last of the Antoine Doinel films.

Still, in these early scenes, Antoine and Christine are comfortable together and do the typical cute-couple things.  They chase each other around their apartment.  They dine on baby food when they run out of normal food.  Christine cheerfully corrects everyone who addresses her as mademoiselle, "not mademoiselle, madame." In a reiteration of a scene from Stolen Kisses (in which Antoine tried to kiss a reluctant Christine in her parents' wine cellar), Christine lures Antoine into the wine cellar and this time initiates the kiss herself. 

Early on, there is also an intimate but funny moment in which Christine laments the size of her breasts and how she will ever breast-feed a baby.  Antoine tells her not to worry, takes a peek, and nicknames them Laurel and Hardy.  While he obviously has one thought on his mind, she has another on hers.  Christine coyly alludes again to her secret when she has Antoine escort her to the gynecologist office one day.  As he leaves, he is a little slow to catch on, thinking that Christine is visiting a dressmaker, but after he passes a poster of a baby on the metro, you can practically see the light bulb flashing in his mind.

Domestic life initially seems to agree with Antoine.  But, although he is older now, he is still at heart an adolescent and prone to lapses of judgment.  When his floral job eventually flops (he kills his flowers in a dyeing accident), Antoine gets a new job...playing with remote-control boats in a pond!  Furthermore, with the eventual birth of his son, Antoine stubbornly goes against Christine's wishes, registering his son's name as Alphonse while Christine remains in the hospital recuperating.  It is an inconsiderate gesture on his part and an inkling of trouble on the horizon.

The real trouble arrives in the form of Kyoko, a pretty Japanese lady.  Dressed in a traditional kimono gown, she catches Antoine's eye one day at work.  And faster than you can say moshi moshi, she ensnares him.  Kyoko's exoticism clearly fascinates Antoine.  When Christine inevitably discovers Antoine's infidelity, he gives her a ridiculously flimsy excuse - "If she were just another woman, I'd understand you being jealous.  But Kyoko's another culture.  You understand?  She's another continent."

Antoine's rationalization does not work.  For the remainder of the film, his marriage is in hot water.  To Antoine, life is almost like a farce with little ramifications.  He approaches his marriage and his career not as an adult but as a child playing a game.  Christine, though she is young and innocent, deals with the issues of married life honestly and maturely.  She reflects carefully on her actions and is not afraid to admit her own weaknesses: "I'm not proud and never have been, so I can tell you -  I still love you.  But I'd rather not see you anymore." It is Christine, not Antoine, who provides the emotional backbone for their marriage.   

Antoine proves incapable of earnest deliberation and often makes the errors typical of an adolescent mindset.  The birth of Antoine's son, signifying his progress into parenthood, scares him, and he responds with an ill-timed, ill-advised affair.  After his break-up with Christine, Antoine goes out to seek a prostitute.  Early in the film, when a senator friend of Christine's father goes through a great deal of trouble to help Antoine and Christine, Antoine writes an ungracious letter of thanks simply because he disagrees with the senator's politics.  Even Antoine's choices of employment throughout his films bear the stamp of a child looking for fun rather than an adult seeking to support his family.

In effect, any act or event which requires a mature response from Antoine achieves the opposite.  Antoine's misadventures may often be amusing and entertaining, but his troubles are progressively of his own doing.  Where once, the misfortunes of his childhood were more the results of poor luck and misunderstandings than of his own making, now, as a young adult, Antoine is perfectly capable of generally all his problems himself without outside intervention.  The lessons of past errors have not changed Antoine for the better.

In the end, Antoine's marriage will somehow be saved, of course.  Christine still remains the pure-hearted, faithful girl from Stolen Kisses and she still loves Antoine, for all his faults.  Despite the dramatic and often affecting scenes in the latter half of the film, Bed and Board is ultimately a comedy.  It will eventually conclude on a pleasant note, with a reconciliation between Antoine and Christine.  Together again, their behavior even begins to resemble that of their Italian neighbors, to which the Italian wife remarks to her husband, "See, darling?  Now they're really in love."

Perhaps, in the aftermath of his first marital crisis, Antoine may at last understand his responsibilities and begin the transformation to mature adulthood.  Only time will tell if the lessons learned this time around will come to fruition in the final film of the Antoine Doinel series - Love on the Run.

Video ** 1/2

The video image for Bed and Board is uneven, having been transferred from rather grainy masters.  On the good side, it's the most colorful of the Antoine Doinel films.  The transfer is also mostly devoid of debris or scratches, and the images have good clarity and texture.  On the bad side, the picture has a noisy quality with a small degree of pixelation; this is most noticeable against white backgrounds, such as walls or skies.  Some viewers may find this distracting.

Audio ** 1/2

The audio is Dolby monophonic 1.0.  Since it is entirely dialogue-driven, its limited dynamic range will not affect the viewing experience.  Just don't expect much excitement from the subwoofers or the rear speakers because the sound is rather thin.  Nonetheless, Criterion has done a fine job of clearing the soundtrack of any hisses or pops.

Coincidentally, I really wish I knew what some of characters were saying in Japanese.  No subtitles are provided for these scenes, so the audience can only speculate.  It would have been particularly interesting to know what was really said in an argument between Kyoko and her female roommate, just before the roommate leaves so Kyoko can be alone with Antoine.

Features **

The features on this DVD are short and sparse.  First up is a featurette with some brief behind-the-scenes footage, followed by a quick on-set interview with Truffaut.  Claude Jade answers a few questions too, although nothing of real significance is revealed here.

Cinéastes de notre temps features an interview with Truffaut and his co-writer, Bernard Revon.  They go through Truffaut's notes and discuss various gags and funny sequences for the film, including an extended telephone gag which doesn't really appear in the final cut.  Truffaut also states that Bed and Board would be the last film in the Antoine Doinel series, as the character, now married, has hopefully now outgrown his adolescence and is beginning to accept adult responsibilities.

Following this feature is a rare TV interview with Jean-Pierre Léaud.  He discusses the role of Antoine Doinel and again confirms that Bed and Board would be the final film in the series.

Next up is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it excerpt from the documentary Approches du cinéma.  Truffaut is featured and discusses the character of Antoine Doinel once more.

Lastly, there is a cute trailer for the film.  It's a little hard to follow but does tend to convey the film's light and somewhat madcap humor.

Summary:

Bed and Board is an amusing and often charming film about a young married couple in love.  It would certainly have been a fitting conclusion to the Antoine Doinel series.  But, despite what Truffaut and Léaud may have said back in 1970, it was not the last film in the series.  Truffaut would offer one last chapter in the life of Antoine Doinel.  Read on about that final film - Love on the Run.