Directed by Francois Truffaut
Stolen Kisses is the third film about Antoine Doinel, following 1959’s The 400 Blows and the 1962 short film Antoine et Collette. Whereas The 400 Blows followed Doinel as a child, breaking rules and discovering himself, the latter two films have focused more on his pursuit of love. In Antoine et Collette, Antoine falls in love with a girl but then becomes better friends with her parents while she goes off with another man.
Stolen Kisses picks up with this same image of Antoine. He is discharged from the military, and he goes to see Christine and her parents. In the first film of this series, Antoine has a strained relationship with his parents, and they disappear in the second film. In place of them he creates these surrogate families. Christine’s parents love Antoine, and they get him a job as a hotel clerk. He seems to be in love with Christine, even trying desperately to kiss her, but she rebuffs him.
Antoine gets fired from the hotel for allowing a private investigator inside, but the PI then hires Antoine to work for him. As Antoine gets more consumed by his new job, he disregards Christine, and his silence towards her only makes her want him more. As part of his surveillance job, Antoine is tasked with working as a shoe salesman at the store of Mr. Tabard, a man who wants to figure out why everyone hates him (it’s not hard to see why, he’s arrogant and blunt). With Antoine as a secret agent of sorts, he can listen to the gossip and report back to his boss how Mr. Tabard is hated and why.
But Antoine then falls in love with Mrs. Tabard. He continues to ignore Christine in favor of this new woman, but knowing that it complicates his job, he quits both the shoe store and his detective agency. It doesn’t help that one of the other PI’s follows Mrs. Tabard to Antoine’s place (though they don’t know he’s involved with her).
Antoine isn’t exactly involved with her, but when she surprised him at his apartment, she proposes a friendly contract in which they will spend a few hours together and then never see each other again. Before proposing this deal, she tells him how her father, right before he died, uttered the words, “people are wonderful!”
We then see Antoine as a tv mechanic, yet another odd job. Christine calls him to her place to fix a tv that she herself breaks on purpose. They spend the night together, and their relationship immediately feels comfortable. The next morning she shows him how to properly butter his toast, and she says that she will teach him things, and he will teach her things.
At a park bench later that day, a man who has been following Christine throughout the film, tells her that he is in love with her. He claims that his love is permanent while Antoine’s love is temporary. The man leaves, and Antoine and Christine shake their heads, calling him mad.
This film feels very goofy and optimistic. It’s somehow more childlike than either of the first Antoine Doinel films in which he actually was a child. His spirit remains from The 400 Blows as he is essentially kicked out of the army (though he goes very willingly) and fired from or quits multiple jobs. So when the man at the end says Antoine’s love is temporary, he’s probably right. Everything in Antoine’s life has seemed to come and go. This is best exemplified by Mrs. Tabard about whom he seems to be madly in love, but when that ends, it ends. There’s no lingering desire or a sense of longing. Antoine gets a new job, and life goes on.
Antoine’s affection for Christine does feel convenient more than passionate, but I think they’re both okay with that. Neither Antoine nor Christine seems to ever burst from their reserved nature. They’re almost always calm, and they see the world in a very functional way. Nothing really gets them down.
Mrs. Tabard’s story about her father’s dying words feel like the film’s thesis. Antoine is easy to root for because he’s a cheerful (if at times sullen) kid who works hard, and he’s really just a fighter. I don’t know how much of this is influenced by what I’ve seen of him in the previous two films. You don’t need to see those films to enjoy this one, but it really helps make his character feel more complex. Antoine’s flighty nature, in the context of this film, is amusing. It’s a bit crazy that he goes from the army to hotel clerk to private detective to shoe salesman to tv mechanic in the span of 80 minutes.
But that same flightiness in The 400 Blows isn’t presented as amusing. It’s the result of a kid who’s desperate to make his own home because the one he has his in free fall.
This series of films is a bit like Boyhood, simply because we follow the same character as he grows up. What I like about this film and Boyhood is that there isn’t a clear through line (though subtextually there is). Outside of Antoine, none of the characters in this film made an appearance in the previous two. Instead, it’s an entirely new story but with the same character. That’s what life is. You live different stories, often with different characters.
As I watched this movie, I found myself wondering how many movies there have been in my life. Like the time I spent a night in San Francisco with a college friend and his religious buddy, both with the same name. We went to a Russian church, then ate dumplings, then went to meet with a friend of theirs who was location scouting for a short film (in a bad part of town). While we waited for them we went to a combination bar/laundromat where there was a comedy open mic. We sat in the back while the amateur but passionate (but very amateur) comedians who all knew each other made very similar body-humor jokes and called us out in the back for sitting so far away from the stage.
Nothing much happened that night, but it all felt so vivid because it was so new. I’m sure I could find 80 minutes of that night that could be cut together to write a movie in which I met some new people and learned some new stuff.
But if I were making a movie about my childhood or even a few years ago, none of those people would be in the story.
So that’s what I mean about life and the characters you meet. When Mrs. Tabard quotes her father who said “people are wonderful,” it’s uplifting because you realize that none of the characters in this film are bad. Some might not be as likable as others, but the whole story is about the great variety and diversity of people. The fact that Antoine can love both an older woman (Tabard) and Christine is by no means charity (they’re both attractive), but I think it says something about his willingness to love more than his need to love.
Antoine seems fine on his own, but he wants to get to know these people, even if he doesn’t understand what drives his affections. Hell, seeing him fawn over Mrs. Tabard is endearing, but not quite as endearing as the way he loves his job as a private detective.
Or even the way he dutifully repairs television sets at the end of the film, that’s endearing too. He’s just a hardworking kid who tries his best no matter the situation. It’s a cliche to write out, but it’s true.
So the last thing I’m wondering is why make this film a broader comedy after The 400 Blows was much more about showing the world as it was, occasionally ruthless and uncaring?
My first thought is that the genre of each film reflects the character’s perspective. So maybe Antoine simply saw the world as colder when he was a child, and now that he has some agency, he’s able to see the whimsy of the world. Or maybe Truffaut, by now a much more experienced filmmaker, simply had different interests in filmmaking. He could have told this story with any kind of character, but he chose to make it the same protagonist from The 400 Blows. That says something.
From what I’ve read, Antoine Doinel is very much like Truffaut himself. He must have really cared about that character (as well he should), so maybe there was a desire to just check in with him and make sure he’s doing okay. Or maybe he just liked the actor.
So The 400 Blows is a more sullen film about a kid running away because there was nothing holding him down. Stolen Kisses is about that same kid willing to try to settle down. Instead of running away, he’s constantly running back home, finding it in different people.