Stolen Kisses (Baisers voles)  [DVD]
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François Truffaut directs this madcap romantic comedy set in 1960s Paris. The third in a series of five films, the movie features Truffaut's cinematic alter-ego Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) who, having received a dishonourable discharge from the army at the age of 20, works his way through a number of unsatisfactory jobs and transient relationships.
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I saw all or most of the Antoine Doinel films many years ago and before I watched Stolen Kisses again for the purpose of these notes had misgivings: I had retained a distinct impression of diminishing returns by the final film in the series (Love on the Run), but Stolen Kisses is, somewhat to my surprise, a delight: the name of Lubitsch is invoked several times in the commentary and many passages do seem gossamer-light in the manner of that master.
For most of the film Antoine is working for a detective agency and relationships are woven around that plot strand so - to put it crudely - it's not just him mooning about some girl. So a bit of Lubitsch and a bit of Hitchcock (Truffaut idolised him and conducted a famous series of interviews with him) results in a souffle which, on this occasion, rises. Of the later Doinel films, Bed and Board is agreeable enough but more convential, while Love on the Run is a sort of benefit night for Doinel (lots of clips from the earlier films) so if you have recently been introduced to The 400 Blows I would check this one out but approach the others with caution.
He gets his big chance when he lucks into a job with a private detective agency. After some mishaps he is called upon to take a job (within a job, as it were) at a shoe store to find out why the owner is not liked. There he meets the owner's wife, Fabienne Tabard, played by Delphine Seyrig (Last Year at Marienbad 1961; The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie 1972, etc.). He is immediately smitten by her. In typical French cinematic fashion it is not clear whether she is a goddess or a maternal figure for the thoroughly bewitched Antoine.
Meanwhile there is Christine Darbon (Claude Jade) who plays Antoine's real love interest. What makes this film so thoroughly agreeable is Truffaut's light-hearted wit and his studious avoidance of cliche in a genre (the romantic comedy) in which cliches abound. The humor is often tongue-in-cheek, and as subtle as a diplomat's compliment. Leaud's charm and his oh so earnest style make him the perfect foil for life's little jokes. Along the way detective agencies are satirized as are its clientele, including a guy who wants his magician boyfriend tailed only to find that he is--horrors!--married, or the aforementioned shoe haberdasher who hires a private eye (not a shrink!) to find out why he is not beloved.
Bottom line: see this for Francois Truffaut, whose keen sense of humanity's foibles and unique style, sometimes playful and sometimes penetrating, have made him one of cinema's greatest directors.
My favourite line comes from shoe-shop owner Michel Lonsdale, trying to explain why he requires the services of a private investigator: "I have a feeling I am being hated... But I don't know by who."
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