Charles Trenet’s airy melody “I Wish You Love” is our romantic introduction into this comedy-drama. However, amid the constant humorous touches of Truffaut’s film, he makes light of youthful visions of romance, while simultaneously reveling in them. Because there is something about being young that is truly extraordinary. The continued saga of Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel is a perfect place to examine this beautiful conundrum.
To begin with, Doinel is still a bit of a trouble-making vagrant, and his time in the military was mostly spent being AWOL. He gets dishonorably discharged and the first thing he does when he gets out seemingly fits what we know of his character. He scampers across incoming traffic and finds the nearest brothel. What begins after that is an increasingly long list of odd jobs. First as a night clerk, before he unwittingly gets mixed up with a private investigator and a jealous husband which ends up getting him fired. Next, comes his most prolific phase as a detective and he’s such a horrendous tail it’s hilarious. But an old vet takes him under his wing and Doinel learns how to be a true detective. Soon he becomes a plant at the local shoe store of a Mr. Tabard after a fine showing wrapping shoe boxes — something he proves to be absurdly awful at.
In fact, all in all, if we look at Doinel he doesn’t seem like much. He’s out of the army, obsessed with sex, can’t do anything, and really is a jerk sometimes. Still, he manages to maintain an amicable relationship with the parents of the innocent, wide-eyed beauty Christine (Claude Jade in her spectacular debut). Theirs is an interesting relationship full of turbulence. We don’t know the whole story, but they’ve had a past, and it’s ambiguous whether or not they really are a couple. They’re in the “friend zone” most of the film and really never spend any significant scenes together. Doinel is either busy tailing some arbitrary individual or fleeing pell-mell from the bosses wife who he has a crush on.
If we look at Antoine’s track record and take another look at Christine, there’s no way they should ever, ever be together not in a million years. But Truffaut does bless Doinel with bits of depth even amidst the everyday comic absurdities. He is a young man always running his hand nervously through his hair. He practices English by record trying to improve himself and he’s obviously looking for intimacy like we all are. In one particularly enlightening turn of events, he begins repeating names in front of the mirror to the point that it becomes taxing. But what young person hasn’t stared at themselves in the mirror or nervously talked to themselves? He truly is a young man still trying to figure things out. He’s allowed to have crushes and make mistakes. Perhaps he doesn’t deserve love. Most of us probably don’t, but that cannot stop him from being ever enraptured by it.
By the time he’s given up the shoe trade and taken up tv repair he’s already visited another hooker, but Christine isn’t done with him yet. She sets up the perfect meet-cute and the two young lovers finally have the type of connection that we have been expecting. When we look at them in this light, sitting at breakfast, or on a bench, or walking in the park they really do seem made for each other. Their height perfectly suited. Her face glowing with joy, his innately serious. Their steps in pleasant cadence with each other. The hesitant gazes of puppy love.
Before the romantic interludes of the Before Trilogy or the adolescent expanses of Boyhood by Richard Linklater, Francois Truffaut was the master of such topics adeptly mixing drama, comedy, and touches of biography to tell personal, heartfelt tales. Jean-Pierre Leaud continues to make Doinel into a character that is continually watchable, because of the very flaws that we criticize. The days of The 400 Blows seem so long ago now and back then he seemed like such a solitary figure. Thankfully now he has the sweet effervescent beauty of Claude Jade to stand by his side. The eminent Pauline Kael, noted her to be “a less ethereal, more practical Catherine Deneuve.” That is a compliment if I’ve ever heard one, and she is a welcomed addition to Stolen Kisses, a thoroughly riveting journey of young love from one of France’s most accessible masters.