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STOLEN KISSES
The Adventures of Antoine Doinel Collection

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars:  Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claude Jade, Delphine Seyrig, Michael Lonsdale
Director:  François Truffaut
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles:  English
Video:  color, anamorphic widescreen 1.66:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features: Serge Toubiana on Stolen Kisses, interview excerpt, newsreel footage, trailer, promotional ad
Length: 91 minutes
Release Date:  April 29, 2003

"Assigned to Vidauban, went AWOL.  Strasbourg, AWOL.  Dupleix, AWOL.  You're always AWOL.  You're like a dog that goes everywhere but where it's called."

Film ****

In The 400 Blows, François Truffaut's debut feature film, the character of Antoine Doinel had been introduced to movie audiences.  Truffaut would revisit this same character four more times throughout the course of his career.  The first time was in a 1962 anthology, Love at Twenty, in which Antoine appeared in a short film about a failed relationship with a pretty girl named Colette.  The next time was in 1968's Baisers Volés (Stolen Kisses), in which an older but not necessarily wiser Antoine Doinel returned to polite society after a forgettable stint in the French army.  Stolen Kisses was extremely well-received, winning a National Society of Film Critics award for best direction.  It also signaled a return to form for Truffaut and ushered in one of the most fulfilling and exciting periods in his career.

Jean-Pierre Léaud, the young actor who had been so engaging as the adolescent Antoine Doinel in the first two films, reprised his role for Stolen Kisses.  In the span of six years since Antoine and Colette, Léaud had established himself as one of the most familiar actors of the French New Wave, having appeared in several films by Truffaut's New Wave compatriot, Jean-Luc Godard.  One of the most remarkable of those films had been Masculin-Féminin, for which Léaud had won a Best Actor award at the Berlin International Film Festival.  But for Stolen Kisses, he was returning to indisputably his most famous role.

Stolen Kisses was a light project, written and photographed quickly on a low $250,000 budget.  It was, in a sense, an anachronistic film about the lovable misfit Antoine still searching for his proper place in society.  While contemporary films of this period usually reflected the turmoil and protest atmosphere of the day, Stolen Kisses was a fresh and simple comedy, a throw-back to a more innocent era. 

Stolen Kisses was an apolitical film, like most of Truffaut's films, but it did allude twice to a real-life conflict concerning a well-known film institute in France at the time.  Truffaut dedicated Stolen Kisses to the Cinémathèque at the Palais de Chaillot, and in fact, the film's opening credits appear over a shot of the locked gates of the Cinémathèque with a sign which, translated, reads, "Closed.  The date of reopening will be announced in the press."  Later, Antoine learns that his girlfriend's conservatory has been closed due to a boycott; apparently, the old director had been replaced by a new one whom nobody liked.  It is another veiled allusion to the great turmoil over the Cinémathèque, a conflict about which Truffaut felt quite strongly.

After the opening credits, Stolen Kisses' story opens on a large military prison.  Among the many anonymous prisoners is one Antoine Doinel, some years older but still engrossed in reading Balzac novels.  Antoine is singled out and shuffled into another room, wherein a stern-faced officer awaits him.  The officer proceeds to soundly criticize Antoine, who has been imprisoned for frequent military misconduct.  Antoine listens with vague amusement while the officer reads aloud from his mediocre military record.  The officer is not so amused; Antoine is issued a dishonorable discharge and sent packing.  Apparently, Antoine Doinel has not matured greatly from the rebellious, troublesome adolescent of The 400 Blows.

Antoine's first act as a civilian is to quickly seek a prostitute.  Without much thought for on-coming traffic, he rushes across roads in fulfillment of this task.  His second act, then, is to seek out his new sweetheart Christine (Jade).  She is a young violinist, a ideal girlfriend considering Antoine's pre-army fascination with music.  But, in a situation very reminiscent of Antoine's failed romance in Antoine and Colette, Christine is out having fun with friends when he drops by, and her parents must entertain Antoine themselves.

Christine, however, is not entirely similar to the cool and indifferent Colette.  After she learns that Antoine has returned from military service, she goes to greet him at his new job as a hotel night clerk.  Christine actually displays some affection for Antoine, even if she is not always sure how to act on her own feelings or how to react towards Antoine's own advances.  Thus, while the romantic situation closely mirrors the situation in Antoine and Colette, the key difference is that Christine, unlike Colette, is truly fond of Antoine.  It is a promising sign that perhaps this time, the romance will turn out happily for Antoine.

For the role of Christine Darbon, Truffaut cast a nineteen-year-old actress, Claude Jade, who had impressed him in the stage play Enrico IV.  Truffaut had been "completely taken by her beauty, her manners, her kindness, and her joie de vivre."  Her polite upbringing and charismatic girl-next-door quality, as far as Truffaut was concerned, made Claude Jade perfect for the role of the pure-hearted Christine who would eventually win Antoine's heart.

As Christine, Claude Jade is as cute as a button and her scenes are often the most charming ones in the film.  Her introductory scene, stepping out of the Parisian night to wave shyly at Antoine through a glass wall, is a delight.  Later, Christine attempts to guess Antoine's latest job, amusingly tossing out way-off-the-mark guesses like cab driver or water taster.  It is a ticklish scene but also hints that Christine, as of yet, doesn't think so highly of Antoine's employable skills.  By the film's end, Antoine has become a TV repairman.  He has been holding a grudge against Christine, so she wins him back in a fetching manner.  She calls his company for service even as she is removing a component from her TV.  The company sends Antoine, who is then forced to stay for hours trying to fix an irreparable TV.

The best romantic scene in the film, however, is a quaint breakfast scene one morning in Christine's kitchen.  Christine is busy teaching Antoine how to butter toast.  Antoine, for his part, wishes to pose a question to her.  Too embarrassed to express himself in words, he writes his question on a notepad instead and hands it to her.  She immediately writes her reply and hands it back to him.  They continue in this manner for a few more exchanges before Antoine withdraws a scissor from a nearby drawer and hangs it on Christine's ring finger.  It is a touching and intimate moment between the two young lovers and communicates, without intrusive words, their affection for one another.

Christine and her parents represent a recurring theme throughout the series - Antoine's inner desire to belong to a real family.  In The 400 Blows, we saw the fragility of Antoine's relationship with his stepfather and mother.  Having never truly received his own family's love, Antoine spends the span of his five films searching for surrogate parents.  In Antoine and Colette, he has more success with Colette's parents than with her, but it is still a new and warm experience for him to encounter a happy home environment.  It is what he truly desires; in fact, even after Colette ultimately rejects him, the film ends with Antoine watching television with her parents, anyway.  In Stolen Kisses, again Antoine has attached himself to a girlfriend whose parents apparently like him more than she does (initially, at least).  The father, unlike Antoine's own stepfather, thinks little of Antoine's mishaps and even helps him to obtain his first job after a dishonorable military discharge.  Christine's father is the father that Antoine never had and has always needed.  As Antoine himself would say later in the series, "I don't fall in love with just the girl but with her whole family.  Her father, her mother -  I like girls with nice parents."

Even in employment, Antoine searches for paternal figures.  After losing his job as a night clerk, Antoine encounters an old detective who takes pity on him.  The detective brings Antoine under his wing as a junior sleuth and trains him.  For a while, Antoine's desire for approval from his new role model supercedes his own need for romance, and he even breaks up briefly with Christine at one point to concentrate on his new endeavor.

Stolen Kisses is in many ways a continuation of Antoine and Colette, in which Antoine struggled with his new independence and first love.  Marie-France Pisier even makes a cameo appearance as Colette.  Now married to Albert, Antoine's former rival for her affections, Colette still teases Antoine about his former infatuation.  Stolen Kisses continues Antoine's efforts to find his proper role in society.  He juggles a successive line of incompatible jobs - undisciplined soldier, gullible night clerk, inexperienced sleuth, mediocre TV repairman.  He experiments with romance, stealing a kiss from Christine in her parents' wine cellar or stealing a few hours with the older, married wife of one of his detective agency's clients.

For the role of this seductive married woman, Madame Fabienne Tabard, Truffaut cast Delphine Seyrig, a veteran of other New Wave films such as Renais' Last Year at Marienbad.  Seyrig brings to the role of Madame Tabard the classiness of an older woman appreciative of the attentions of a younger man.  Her mature approach to Antoine's admiration is the antithesis to his often awkward handling of his own relationship with Christine.

Indeed, Antoine's attitude towards Christine is an immature one, handled clumsily and often with tragicomic results.  Antoine is too impatient with yet simultaneously not attentive enough towards Christine.  In one droll telephone call to Christine, Antoine at first attempts to earnestly apologize to her for having running off earlier but then abruptly hangs up on her again to dash off on an errand.  Were it not for Christine's own efforts in the end, Antoine might well have ended his relationship in failure once again.  Antoine would have become much like the mysterious stranger who stalks Christine from afar in Stolen Kisses and who, at the film's end, gathers the courage to come up to her and to deliver his "definitive" speech:

"Before I saw you, I never loved anyone.  I hate temporary things.  I know life well, that everyone betrays everyone else.  But it will be different for you and me.  We'll never be apart, not even for a single hour.  I don't work, and I have no obligations in life.  You will be my sole preoccupation..."

The stranger is the reflection of an older and lovelorn Antoine, an outsider looking sadly upon the happiness of others.  In Antoine and Colette, Antoine was very much like this man, a spectator for Colette's happiness with Albert.  In Stolen Kisses, it is Antoine who will be the victor and who will win his sweetheart's affections.  Antoine is able to sympathize for this stranger because he knows fully well the anguish of a missed opportunity in love.

In this sense, the success of Antoine's relationship with Christine is indicative of his growing maturity and of his gradual acceptance into society.  Antoine may still have much to learn about love and life in general, but he has at least begun to move in the right direction.

Video ** 1/2

In general, the transfer, created from a 35mm interpositive print, is quite solid and has no trace of compression defects.  However, the video presentation does have some flaws inherent to the somewhat damaged source print used for the DVD.  While many scenes look just fine, some scenes are marred.  These include significant areas of discoloration in the first reel (strange, it's always the first reel that looks the worst in these older films...) and in a later magic act sequence, as well.  Also, Stolen Kisses was shot using a grainy European film stock, and darker scenes or night-time location shots seem to really intensify this grain to the point of distraction.  There are some minor scratches and dust markings, but Criterion for the most part has done a good job cleaning these up.

Overall, Stolen Kisses looks decent, but the source print does show its age.

Audio ** 1/2

Stolen Kisses starts off with the light and lovely tune "Que reste t-il de nos amours?" ("What Remains of Our Love"), which was a popular Charles Trenet tune back in the 1960's.  In fact, the film draws its title from a reference in the song.

As for the audio, it is monophonic 1.0.  You can turn off the sub-woofers for this one because the audio has no low end and is not even remotely dynamic.  But, since the film is almost entirely dialogue-driven, the audio track is quite sufficient.  Fans of the film will be quite pleased with Criterion's efforts here, as the audio track sounds as good as new, even if the original soundtrack cannot compare to the routinely immersing 5.1 tracks of today's movies.

Features ***

Serge Toubiana, author of an extensive biography on Truffaut, offers a few words concerning the pre-production of Stolen Kisses.  He also alludes to the Cinémathèque conflict which had so energized Truffaut during this period.  This is generally an informative featurette, but Toubiana speaks at such lightning speed even the subtitles even difficulty keeping up!

Next up is A.D. & J.P.L., an excerpt from the TV programme Cinéastes de notre temps.  Truffaut is featured, and he discusses various aspects of Stolen Kisses, focusing mainly on the two loves of Antoine's life at the time, Christine Darbon and Madame Tabard.  It's interesting but short.

The Langlois Affair is the next featurette and offers a series of silent newsreel footage of the 1968 demonstrations to restore Henri Langlois to the Cinémathèque.  This may seem irrelevant to modern audiences, but I'll give the event a proper historical perspective.  In 1936, Henri Langlois had founded the famed French film institution Cinémathèque, which had been an incredible influence on many young directors, including the young Truffaut.  In 1968, Langlois, due to recent poor managerial decisions, was being removed from power by the board of directors.  It was hardly an unanimous decision.  Truffaut (also a board member at the time) had not always seen eye to eye with Langlois, but he respected Langlois, loved the Cinémathèque, and felt that the board's removal of Langlois had been unjust.  Truffaut subsequently launched a huge mobilization effort to reinstate Langlois, gathering to his cause hundreds of critics, film enthusiasts, actors, and also directors who would refuse to allow their films to be shown at the Cinémathèque until Langlois was reinstated.  The newsreel footage shows some of the demonstrations and many of the French celebrities involved.  It also offers a glimpse of the French government's violent response to these peaceful demonstrations.  Also included (as a separate extra feature) is a short, 1-minute promotional commercial done by Truffaut and Godard to gather public support for the Cinémathèque.  Fortunately, in the end, the demonstrations were successful, and no one was seriously injured.  In a few months, the Cinémathèque's Chaillot theater was re-opened, with Langlois re-instated as artistic director.

Truffaut wasn't done with demonstrations yet that year, though!  In the late spring of 1968, nationwide student protests and general workers' strikes were erupting all over France.  With factories shut, public transportations halted and newspapers not being printed, it seemed inappropriate for the scheduled Cannes Film Festival to continue.  Truffaut, among many others in the film industry, expressed a wish to the festival's organizers that they should delay or cancel the festival to show their solidarity behind the students and workers' strikes until the national crisis had been resolved.  This DVD offers newsreel footage from this period as well, concluding with an announcement that the Festival has been cancelled.

Lastly, there is the trailer for Stolen Kisses.  It doesn't give away much of the plot but does capture the film's whimsical, light-hearted mood quite nicely.  All in all, the features on this DVD are nice albeit a bit on the short side.

Summary:

Stolen Kisses is the feature-length follow-up to Truffaut's masterpiece The 400 Blows.  It is lighter and more romantic in tone than The 400 Blows but is a superb film in its own right.  Easily one of Truffaut's most delightful films, Stolen Kisses is a fine welcome back for the character of Antoine Doinel, who would re-appear again only a few years later in Bed and Board.