Claude Jade as Christine Doinel

claude jade

As often happens in the life of a classic movie aficionado, I became acquainted Claude Jade quite by accident and it happened at a random point in her filmography. In Hitchcock’s Cold War thriller Topaz (1969) she has a small part to play but the Master of Suspense was pointed to the actress by Francois Truffaut the French critic and director who had undertaken an immense interview with Hitch that has remained a treasure for cinema fanatics.

But still, that in itself has little bearing on Claude Jade. Jade came to the forefront of my mind after watching several entries in Truffaut’s famed Antoine Doinel saga starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, the first of these being Stolen Kisses (1968). And she immediately left an indelible mark on this viewer because she seemed the complete antithesis of our main character. Antoine was always a bit of a troublemaker, a vagrant, a malcontent, and whatever other negative descriptors you want to throw out. In some respect, it’s difficult to like him.

Yet from the first moment we see Christine Darbon, the wide-eyed ingenue, Antoine, and the audience are immediately taken with her for those very reasons. She’s so kind and sweet in ways that Antoine never manages to be. There’s an innocence and a playfulness behind her eyes that’s disarming. If we knew any better, we would say that he had no right in pursuing a relationship with a girl such as this. But to his credit, he does eventually get his life figured out just enough to begin to see her.

It’s these interludes of Stolen Kisses that we might say puppy love is bubbling up. There are furtive glances. Breakfast at the kitchen table. Walks through the neighborhood park together. It feels like a little slice of paradise and even in their utter differences, it seems that Antoine and Christine might make a life together. Perhaps they were even made for each other after all.


In Bed & Board (1970), the next installment in the series, the couple is now married and rather happily so. They have a baby and he has a flower shop and she teaches violin lessons. But they have each other and they are content. Reading in bed together after the day’s activities are over or eating a dinner of baby food because going to the store like adults is far too difficult.  How could Antoine not be happy with a wife such as this?

However, he is always plagued by inner demons and infidelities. In this case, dismantling his marriage and all that is good with his life with another woman. But part of what makes Christine phenomenal is the immense grace in which she handles Antoine. Again and again, we are reminded of just how much he does not deserve her and yet she sees something in him that is worthwhile and worth staying with. If nothing else, she makes us appreciate Antoine as a protagonist, blessing him with a human side, and suggesting there are still some redeeming qualities left in him.  So by the film’s end despite the turmoil and turbulence, they went through, they still have enough affection to stay together.

In Truffaut’s final installment Love on the Run (1979), the passage of time is not so kind to them as is often the case with life. But what stays the same is Christine (and unfortunately Antoine too). She remains a caring figure lighting up the screen with her charm, youthful exuberance, and quiet dignity even with she is slighted.

I will end by quoting the eminent critic Pauline Kael who noted in one of her reviews that Claude Jade was “a less ethereal, more practical Catherine Deneuve.” If I’d have to wager a guess on what she was getting at, it would probably be something along these lines. Deneuve was always this aloof beauty who exists in almost a different stratosphere and if we might be so bold to make the assumption, she feels almost unattainable. Maybe she doesn’t live in the same world that we do. Hers is a cinematic existence. But Jade in her playful winks and everyday interactions makes us feel like we know her well.

Because her life with Antoine is not unlike our own in some respects. That makes us appreciate her immensely and adore her even moreso because she feels like one of us. Deneuve is revered because she is beautiful in an elegant way. She would never be one to get her hands dirty. But with Jade, there’s that immediate connection. Rather than create a dichotomy however between “ethereal” and “practical” I’d much rather say that I appreciate them both and the impact that they both had on French cinema.  Antoine Doinel, sometimes I think you’re an idiot. In fact, I know so. How could you not remain true to a woman with a face like that?

claude jade 2

This is my entry in the Reel Infatuation Blogathon….


Love on the Run (1979)

love on the run 2You can’t just do anything at all and then say ‘forgive me!’ You haven’t changed a bit.” ~ Colette

The prospect of watching Love on the Run saddened me and not for the reasons you might expect. Not because it’s noted as the weakest film in Truffaut’s famed Antoine Doinel series, although that it is. Not because it utilizes a clip show rather like a lazy sitcom as some will undoubtedly note (although this does actually give way to some rather entertaining reminisces as Antoine crosses paths with two old acquaintances). And it’s not even because this is the last film in the series and Truffaut never got around to any more installments before his death in 1983. Though that is sad.

The truly heartbreaking thing about this film is not even the fact that Antoine and Christine (Claude Jade) are getting a divorce although that is at the core of it. It’s that Antoine, who has long been the focal point of these films with his certain brand of charming charisma, really has not changed a great deal.

Time and time again, his superficial relationships with women are explored and time and time again his self-destructive habits hardly seem playfully entertaining but if you want the most honest answer, it’s all rather disheartening.

He has a new girl who we meet in the opening credits. Her name is Sabine. She’s young, radiant, very pretty and works in the local record shop. If we didn’t know any better we could easily make comparisons between her and Christine.

We see that little boy from 400 Blows and even that same young man looking to win the affection of a cute brunette named Collete. However, now a few years down the road, none of that panned out. He’s terribly selfish, undeniably a cad and always trying to say he’s sorry to save face. Sabine says it well when she calls him a pickup artist (You sure have a strange idea about relationships. You seem to only care about the first encounter. Once they’re together it’s all downhill).  

However, if we look again we remember that Doinel’s home life was hardly a prize, schoolmasters were unfeeling and his mother passed away — the only real family he had in the world.
Maybe, love on the run 1Antoine Doinel is a character who thinks only in the cinematic and it is true that he often functions in a bit of a faux-reality. He seems normal but never quite is. He seems charismatic but we are never won over by him completely. Still, we watch the unfoldings of his story rather attentively.

Like all the women who he tiptoed around with, as an audience, we have liked him but never truly loved him — an important distinction to make. And coincidentally, we also see right through him. Perhaps because he’s often too much like us or other times not enough like us. It’s hard to put a finger on which one it is exactly.

We leave the film essentially where it began. Antoine has once more been scolded by his girl and made up. It’s difficult to know quite precisely how to feel about that. Love on the Run is worth its nostalgia, woven in between the most recent moments of Doinel’s life. While his character is trying, he is still strangely compelling. But at this point, it’s hard to know what to do with him. Nevertheless, Francois Truffaut was unparalleled in the continuous narrative he was able to craft — flawed, personal and most certainly memorable.

3.5/5 Stars

Bed and Board (1970)

bedandboard1Arguably the greatest French comic was Jacques Tati and like Chaplin or Keaton he seemed to have an impeccable handle on physical comedy, combining the human body with the visual landscape to develop truly wonderful bits of humor. Bed and Board is a hardly a comparable film, but it pays some homage to the likes of Mon Oncle and Playtime. There’s a Hulot doppelganger at the train station, while Antoine also ends up getting hired by an American Hydraulics company led by a loud-mouthed American (Billy Kearns) who closely resembles one of Hulot’s pals from Playtime. Furthermore, there are supporting cast members with a plethora of comic quirks. The man who won’t leave his second story apartment until Petain is dead and buried at Verdun. No one seems to have told him that the old warhorse has been dead nearly 20 years. The couple next door that is constantly running late, the husband pacing in the hallway as his wife rushes to make it to his opera in time. There’s the local strangler who is kept at arm’s length until the locals learn something about him. The rest is a smattering of characters who pop up here and there at no particular moment. Their purpose is anyone’s guess, and yet they certainly do entertain.

In other ways, Francois Truffaut is a very different director than Tati when it comes to his filmmaking. His protagonist Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is a bit autobiographical, but he still seemingly functions outside of normal time and space as he continues to float easily in between jobs and doesn’t seem to worry much about anything. First, it’s a flower shop that doesn’t get much traffic and then the American company where Doniel hardly does anything but pilot remote control boats. But like before in Stolen Kisses (1968), it is Christine (Claude Jade) who still gives him the edge of humanity. Early on we notice that they go to the cellar — the same cellar he made advances on her two years prior — except now things are a little different. They are married now and happily so. He experiments with dying flowers while she takes on a violinist pupil. Soon enough follows a baby boy with his loving parents dueling on what to name him. They even have a dinner of baby food, because who wants to go to the store like a grown-up? At night they cuddle up and read together in bed.

bedandboard2But as Truffaut usually does, he digs into his character’s flaws that suspiciously look like they might be his own. Antoine easily gets swayed by the demure attractiveness of a Japanese beauty (Hiroko Berghauer), and he begins spending more time with her.  Thus the marital turbulence sets in thanks in part to Antoine’s needless infidelity –revealed to Christine through a troubling bouquet of flowers. It’s hard to keep up pretenses when the parent’s come over again and Doinel even ends up calling on a prostitute one more. It’s as if he always reverts back to the same self-destructive habits. He never quite learns.

Christine doesn’t deserve a cad such as him, but then again perhaps many people aren’t deserving of love, but we willingly give it to them anyways. The bottom line is that Antoine and Christine still love each other to the end, but that doesn’t make married life with a small child any less difficult. As is his proclivity, Truffaut gracefully touches on what it means to progress from adolescence to adulthood, singleness to married life. He does it with comedic touches that are forever underlined by searing romantic drama. It’s continually engaging just as Antoine Doinel continues to captivate us. Would I ever want to know him personally? Probably not, but I am intrigued by his character. If nothing else it’s a worthy continuation of Antoine and Christine’s life story. Antoine is not the only one smitten with Christine. She wins over the audience as well.

“I’m not like you. I don’t like things fuzzy and vague and ambiguous. I like things to be clear.” – Christine talking to Antoine

4/5 Stars


Stolen Kisses (1968)

stolenkisses7Charles 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.

stolenkisses3In 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.

stolenkisses6By 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.

4/5 Stars

Topaz (1969)

topaz1While Hitchcock’s Topaz also finds its roots in the Cold War like its predecessor Torn Curtain (1966), it revolves around more intricate professional espionage which in this case pertains specifically to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The establishing shot of the film makes it clear that we are somewhere, once more, behind the Iron Curtain as we see a waving flag emblazoned with the faces of Lenin, Marx, and Engels. Interestingly enough, although the film begins with a high Russian official fleeing the country with his family and includes the deal he cuts with the Americans, Topaz really focuses on something else entirely. It plays off this idea of a man caught in the middle of the Cold War. Except this is not an everyman, but a specialized agent trained in espionage. Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford) is a Frenchmen who should seemingly be outside the fray of the opposing Superpowers.

But as anyone would probably try to explain, such issues of international relations and security are never so cut and dry. There is a lot more ambiguity involved and being an old friend with one of the American agents (John Forsythe), Devereux obliges to get involved with the whole affair in Cuba because he too is interested to see what the Russians are up to.

Agent Devereaux gets fully embroiled in Cold War espionage after making contact with Juanita (Karin Dor), the esteemed widow of a Cuban Revolutionary who now also happens to be a spy. Andre slips her aide a Geiger counter so that he can monitor the surrounding area to see if the Russians have nuclear warheads. And his results are conclusive. When by some lucky break Devereaux actually does get his evidence out of the country, Agent Nordstrom (Forsythe) confirms that the new information matches that from other sources including U2 plane surveillance. While the history stops there with Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Mission Crisis, the film continues, following Devereaux back to France where he suspects a Russian mole. Since Hitchcock was always more of a showman than a political filmmaker, it makes sense that he grabs hold of the spy thriller thread in one final act. It channels paranoia very similar to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold although it is a glossier affair with intrigue crisscrossed with illicit romance.

topaz2Whereas the previous Torn Curtain was generally concerned with life behind the Iron Curtain, Topaz is decidedly more continental moving swiftly between Russia, France, America, Cuba, including a few pitstops at international embassies. However, the film does end up spending a lot of time focused on Cuba which can very easily be juxtaposed with the East German scenes in the former film. Hitchcock once more creates an illusion of reality using the Universal backlot and the adjoining area to craft Cuba, and he makes into a place of sunshine and romantic verandas, but it also runs rampant with totalitarian militia. It’s perhaps more exotic and welcoming than East Germany, but no less repressed. In both cases, they become a perilous locale for our protagonists. Still, rather unlike the previous film, Topaz lacks a truly A-list star like Paul Newman or Julie Andrews.

It’s as if Hitch has lost a number of things that made some of his best films, a stellar cast backed by a truly inspired script, carried out with his typical ingenuity. However, this film holds a special place in my heart as my first introduction to Claude Jade. That alone made it a worthy piece of viewing, but it also stands as a historical relic.

3/5 Stars