The Adventures of Antoine Doinel: Stolen Kisses (1968)

Unlike Antoine and Colette, which came about when François Truffaut was asked to contribute an episode to an anthology film, the next movie in the Antoine Doinel series had no external impetus. “I usually start with more solid material,” the director said on a 1970 episode of Cinéastes de notre temps. “I like having two or three reasons to make a film, a coming together of a book I want to adapt or an atmosphere I want to show with an actor that I want to film, and perhaps a third reason. Here, I admit, I just wanted to work with Jean-Pierre Léaud again. I more or less set a specific date by which I wanted to make a film with Léaud, with my friends Claude de Givray and Bernard Revon. I’d worked with Claude before. I’d known him for many years. We sat down and said, ‘What are we going to do with Léaud?'”

Truffaut gave Revon and de Givray a few starting points — one of these was the title, Baisers volés (Stolen Kisses), which was derived from Charles Trenet’s song “Que reste-t-il de nos amours” — and after much research, input from the director and subsequent revision, they produced what Truffaut described as “a loosely written chronicle in which improvisation would have the final word.” In addition to Léaud, Marie-France Pisier and Jean-François Adam would appear briefly as Colette and her now-husband Albert; François Darbon, who played Colette’s stepfather in Antoine and Colette, was also brought back, but in the role of an army officer. (René, notably, disappears without a trace. Antoine was going to have a new best friend named Didier in Stolen Kisses, but the character and his girlfriend, Juliette, were cut shortly before shooting began.) Truffaut assembled the rest of the cast in January 1968, and he started filming on February 5th.

Two days later, news reached him that Henri Langlois, director and founder of the Cinémathèque Française, was in danger of being removed from his position due to poor management. On February 9th, Truffaut rearranged his shooting schedule to attend a board of directors meeting, during which the board agreed to replace Langlois with Pierre Barbin; Truffaut and a few other dissenting members walked out without voting. Langlois’s friends leaped into action, sending out telegrams and gathering support from throughout the film world: Jean Renoir, Charlie Chaplin, Akira Kurosawa, Fritz Lang, Gloria Swanson and countless others. The French New Wave directors were particularly involved, as many of them had become film lovers because of Langlois’s work at the Cinémathèque, presenting and preserving movies from throughout the history of cinema. “From that time on I led a double life as a film maker and a militant agitator,” said Truffaut, “making phone calls between takes to raise funds, alert public opinion, set up a Defense Committee and frequently missing rushes to attend demonstrations. Throughout the shooting our slogan was: ‘If Stolen Kisses is good, it will be thanks to Langlois; if it’s bad, we’ll blame it on Barbin!'”

Jean-Pierre Léaud and François Truffaut at a demonstration in support of Henri Langlois, 1968
Jean-Pierre Léaud and François Truffaut at a demonstration in support of Henri Langlois, 1968

On April 22nd, Langlois was reinstated as the artistic and technical director of the Cinémathèque Française. Stolen Kisses had finished filming at the end of March, and its opening credits would include a shot of the then-locked Cinémathèque and a sign reading, “Closed. The date of reopening will be announced in the press.” Truffaut dedicated the movie to “la Cinémathèque Française d’Henri Langlois.”

At the beginning of the film, Antoine is in a military prison, quietly reading Balzac’s The Lily of the Valley, when his name is called. He’s brought before an adjutant (François Darbon), who declares him “temperamentally unfit for service” and launches into a harangue, including a list of his offenses: “Assigned to Vidauban, went AWOL. Strasbourg, AWOL. Dupleix, AWOL. You’re always AWOL. You’re like a dog that goes anywhere but where it’s called.” When he asks why Antoine enlisted for three years instead of just waiting to be drafted, Antoine will only say that he had “personal reasons.” “On account of some girl, no doubt,” the adjutant scoffs. At last, he lets him go. “Good luck. Here’s hoping we never see you again. Dismissed.”

Thus dishonorably discharged, Antoine finds himself at loose ends. After stopping by a brothel, he returns to his old room (not either of his rooms from Antoine and Colette, for the record) and then goes to see the Darbon family. Christine Darbon (Claude Jade) — the girl behind Antoine’s “personal reasons” — is away on a ski trip, but her parents (Daniel Ceccaldi, Claire Duhamel) welcome him warmly. Through Christine’s father, Antoine becomes a night clerk at a hotel, but he’s soon fired after he unwittingly lets a private detective and a jealous husband enter a woman’s room to obtain proof of adultery. To make up for it, the detective, Monsieur Henri (Harry-Max), gets Antoine a job at his company, the Blady Agency. Before long, the owner, Monsieur Blady (André Falcon), becomes frustrated by Antoine’s incompetence. “I don’t know what to do with you,” he says after Antoine botches a simple assignment. “You mean well, but… It’s discouraging.”

Just then, a new client arrives: Georges Tabard (Michel Lonsdale, sometimes credited as Michael Lonsdale), the proprietor of a shoe store. Although he begins by saying, “I have no special reason for coming to see you,” he eventually admits, “Nobody likes me, and I’d like to know why.” His introductory speech — pompous, paranoid and obtuse, with some racism thrown in for good measure — offers an abundance of answers, but an amused Blady decides that this would be the perfect case for Antoine. Consequently, Antoine begins working undercover at the shoe store, gathering information on how the employees feel about Tabard. One evening, when he’s told to stay late in order to find a pair of shoes that he managed to lose, he meets Tabard’s wife, Fabienne (Delphine Seyrig), and falls in love at first sight. Like Colette before her, she becomes his obsession, and a major impediment to both his job and his ever-fluctuating relationship with Christine.

While Antoine and Colette is significantly lighter than The 400 Blows, Stolen Kisses goes even further by being an outright comedy, at least for the most part. “Once a picture is finished I realize it is sadder than I meant it to be. This happens with every picture,” Truffaut wrote in his book of Antoine Doinel screenplays. “I had expected Stolen Kisses to be a funny picture. When I started making movies I had the idea that there were things that were funny and others that were sad, so I would put funny things and sad things in my films. Then I tried to switch abruptly from something sad to something comical. In the course of making Stolen Kisses I came to feel that the best of all were the kind of situations that were funny and sad at once.” The rest of the cast provides excellent support — Lonsdale’s delightfully dense Georges Tabard is a particular standout, whether he’s declaring that people have always been jealous of him or defending Hitler’s artistic integrity — but much of the humor, as well as the sadness that sometimes accompanies it, comes from Antoine.

If Antoine as a character and Léaud as an actor are somewhat subdued in Antoine and Colette, Stolen Kisses goes in the opposite direction. This time around, Antoine’s clumsiness in love spreads to his work and his life in general, and Léaud’s performance reflects this in a very physical manner. The actor had played a high-energy comic role the year before in Jerzy Skolimowski’s Le Départ, and although he’s comparatively restrained in Truffaut’s film, he spends a good bit of his screen time in motion: gesticulating, running, bumping into signs, falling headlong. (His fall appears to be accidental, as the screenplay only says that Antoine “steps aside,” but it fits in perfectly with the rest.) In 1970, he told The New York Times that he was “mad about Buster Keaton,” and Keaton may well have influenced his work in Stolen Kisses, much of which wouldn’t be out of place in a silent comedy. However, Léaud is considerably less deadpan than Keaton, like in the scene where Antoine is being discharged from the army. As the adjutant chastises him, telling him that he won’t be able to work for the civil service and that his best career option is peddling neckties on the street, “though God knows you’ll never need one yourself,” Antoine alternates between holding back laughter and making sardonic faces.

During this scene, the adjutant also remarks that Antoine has “probably got Communist connections,” an accusation that causes him to raise his eyebrows. It’s a very minor line, a joke, but one with significance on several levels. Antoine seems to be largely apolitical throughout the series. In the fourth film, Bed and Board, he expresses “a little” interest in politics, but even that’s not evident in Stolen Kisses. At one point, while tailing someone for the detective agency, he stops in a phone booth to call Christine. She tells him that she took part in a demonstration the day before, and although he’s intrigued for a few seconds, he gets distracted almost immediately when a truck blocks the door he was watching. “You know my friend Marie? She had to go to the hospital. It was terrible,” she says. “Yes, very interesting,” Antoine replies. “Good. That’s great.” Then he pretends the operator is cutting off their conversation. Although Christine doesn’t say what prompted the demonstration, early on in the movie, her mother tells Antoine that the conservatory Christine attends is closed. “They replaced the director, but the students preferred the old one. So they’re boycotting classes. It’s quite a story,” she explains — a thinly veiled version of the Langlois affair. Antoine just nods and says, “Really?” out of politeness rather than interest.

Truffaut, though more engaged and better informed than Antoine, was apolitical as well, a trait that sometimes put him at odds with politicized friends and colleagues. Occasionally, he would support an issue that was important to him — during the Langlois affair, for instance, or in 1970 when he sold the banned leftist newspaper La Cause du peuple on the street in the name of a free press (“He didn’t give a darn about the content of the paper, but the idea that a paper could be banned seemed to him utterly objectionable,” recalled Marie-France Pisier) — but he was unwilling to commit to any party or ideology. Some of this stemmed from his deep-seated distrust of authority figures, some from the fact that he thought politics oversimplified life, which he described as “neither Nazi, nor Communist, nor Gaullist, it’s anarchic.”

Léaud, in contrast, was a left-wing militant, particularly in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (Discussing this epoch in his life in a 2013 interview, he said, “My friendship with Truffaut, whom I still saw often, helped me to find a balance in these matters, because many intellectuals lost this equilibrium then.”) His political side is evident in much of his other work from this period, such as the films he made with Jean-Luc Godard: Masculin féminin (1966), La Chinoise (1967), The Joy of Learning (1969) and several others. Of Léaud’s work with Godard, Senses of Cinema‘s Rhys Graham wrote:

These roles, as diverse as they are politically intense, are poles apart from Doinel but also exploit the outsider quality that is intrinsic to Léaud. However, where Léaud’s performances for Truffaut were that of a lonely, romantic outsider, for Godard, Léaud was a dogmatic and often didactic idealist who also skirted the fringes of life. Truffaut described Léaud’s Doinel persona as one who ‘does not openly oppose society (and in this sense is not a revolutionary), but he is wary of it and goes his own way, on the outskirts of society.’ Godard, on the other hand, almost always had Léaud play a revolutionary or ideologue, and in many ways, this was closer to the truth of the performer.

In 1970, when asked by The New York Times which director was his favorite, Léaud answered, “Godard and Truffaut.” He explained, “You don’t have to reject one because of the other. Each in his own way is great, completely his own man. I admire them both for that. One doesn’t have to follow either but try to find one’s own path.” (During the same interview, he also said, “Truffaut is my father, Godard is my uncle, and Henri Langlois is my grandfather.”) However, the 2010 documentary Two in the Wave, which explores the friendship-turned-enmity between Truffaut and Godard, includes an undated and unsourced quote from Léaud that sheds a different light on the situation: “As Doinel’s character exists through different films over a decade, I identified with him, and through him with François. But sometimes I rebel. If I’m to exist, I have to reject Doinel, which means rejecting François. That’s what Godard did for me. He let me escape the gilded cage of Antoine Doinel.”

François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard speaking on behalf of the Comité de défense de la Cinémathèque française, 1968
François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard speaking on behalf of the Comité de Défense de la Cinémathèque Française, 1968

The actor has often said that he tried to reflect his directors’ personalities in his performances. “If I’m different from one film to another, it’s because of the director,” he told The New York Times. In a 1999 Village Voice interview, he said, “There have been two periods in my inner life, two idées fixes. The first period consisted of me working with directors with whom I totally identified, like François, like Jean Eustache. When I was working for François, I was like François. When I worked for Eustache, I was like Eustache. Same with Godard.” Most intriguing, perhaps, is this 1973 quote from Sight and Sound: “I think that an actor is essentially a receptive vessel, that his first concern must be not to distort the director’s ideas if he can possibly help it. So it’s important for me to work with strong directors, and to feel thoroughly in sympathy with their ideas. Of course, that could leave you with very little sense of your own identity. I’ve only recently begun to understand that I have to impose myself on my work, rather than transform myself for it.”

Even though this makes it sound as if Antoine was merely Léaud mimicking Truffaut, both men acknowledged that Antoine became a mixture of the two of them, and that Léaud’s influence on the character increased over time. In their biography of Truffaut, Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana cite Stolen Kisses as the film where the actor really started to have an impact: “Increasingly, the character’s gestures, attitudes, anecdotes, and even memories belong to Léaud himself. Truffaut was fully aware of this and encouraged it, never curbing Léaud’s inspiration and improvisations.”

When trying to sort out director, actor and character, it should be noted that Stolen Kisses relies much less on Truffaut’s personal history than the earlier entries in the series do. In 1965, he and Jean-Louis Richard had started writing a sequel to Antoine and Colette in which Antoine begins working as a journalist, but he abandoned it after a few months because he felt that it was too autobiographical. Thus, instead of becoming a music critic, as Antoine and Colette might suggest to viewers with a basic knowledge of Truffaut’s life, Antoine tends to take whatever job comes his way. His interest in music is all but forgotten, although the fact that Christine is a conservatory student may be a subtle nod to the previous film, and he says that he likes music in the memorable “oui, monsieur” scene; at any rate, he no longer has a passion that corresponds to Truffaut’s cinephilia. For the most part, he takes his various jobs seriously, but he’s just not very good at any of them — a far cry from Truffaut, a star critic in his early twenties and an award-winning director a few years later.

Still, Antoine isn’t completely divorced from his creator. According to Carole Le Berre in François Truffaut at Work, the director rejected or reworked the bulk of Revon and de Givray’s first draft of the screenplay, which was “an attempt at Parisian satire and an account of young people in the 1960s, whereas Truffaut really wanted to feature his own youth in a disguised form.” He said as much in his introduction to the Antoine Doinel screenplays: “If the audience expected Stolen Kisses to be a statement of modern youth, they were bound to be disappointed, for it is precisely because of his anachronism and romanticism that I found Jean-Pierre so appealing: he is a young man of the nineteenth century. As for myself, I am a nostalgic; I am not tuned in on what is modern, it is in the past that I find my inspiration; I proceed by personal sensations, which is why all my pictures, and especially Stolen Kisses, are filled with souvenirs and tend to remind the audience that sees them of its own youth.”

The most directly autobiographical element of Stolen Kisses is probably the army episode at the beginning. In despair over his unrequited love for Liliane Litvin, tired of his work as a journalist and dissatisfied with life in general, Truffaut enlisted in the artillery in October of 1950. It was a three-year commitment, and he regretted it within three months. By January of 1951, he was writing to friends to see if they could get him transferred from Wittlich to Baden-Baden, where he could work in journalism again — a job that suddenly seemed more appealing than it once had; their efforts failed. “I was usually either in prison or in the infirmary,” Antoine tells Christine, and so was Truffaut, who was jailed for desertion multiple times and hospitalized for everything from sinus problems to a suicide attempt. At last, early in 1952, he was discharged as a result of his “unstable character” and “perverse delinquent tendency,” but not before being chastised and insulted by a captain in front of five witnesses. This moment inspired the scene with Antoine and the adjutant, and Antoine’s irreverent facial expressions seem to reflect Truffaut’s feelings toward his military experiences.

Undoubtedly, other memories from Truffaut’s young adult years played a role in Stolen Kisses, but because the overall plot is fictitious, these aspects are fragmented, harder to pin down than they are in The 400 Blows and Antoine and Colette. Moreover, he and his co-writers also drew inspiration from other real-life sources. The “oui, monsieur” incident, for example, was derived from Anatole France’s memoirs, and Antoine’s brief stint at the hotel came about because they had several friends who had worked as night watchmen, including Éric Rohmer. For the detective portion of the story, Revon and de Givray spent hours interviewing the head of the Dubly Agency, which, like the fictional Blady Agency, advertised on the backs of phone books; a number of his anecdotes were incorporated into the film. “For fantasy is more acceptable to the audience when it is rooted in realism,” Truffaut wrote, “and ‘reality,’ according to Jean Renoir, ‘is always magic.'”

Antoine’s romantic exploits, meanwhile, lack the autobiographical directness of his doomed infatuation with Colette — that is, Truffaut’s doomed infatuation with Liliane Litvin — but the director’s busy love life must have provided plenty of material. “I may lack Balzac’s genius, but my love life is just as complicated as his, the objects of my affection being either sixteen or forty years old, with a few ambiguous relationships between those 2 ages,” he wrote to his friend Robert Lachenay in February 1951, a line reminiscent of Antoine’s dilemma with Christine and the significantly older Fabienne.

The vicissitudes of Antoine’s relationship with Christine are somewhat difficult to follow, as acknowledged in the first treatment: “As the picture progresses, we will see that the relationship between Antoine and Christine, who studies violin at the Conservatoire National de Musique, is so uneven and complex that her parents and his friends are never quite sure where these two stand with respect to each other.” In part, it was based on the Liliane Litvin episode. Christine, not Colette, is behind Antoine’s rash decision to join the army (along with his reading of Military Servitude and Greatness), and he writes to her while he’s away, just as Truffaut continued to write to Litvin in the vain hope that she would fall in love with him at some point. “You wrote so many, I couldn’t answer them all. I counted once. Nineteen letters in one week,” Christine says, and later adds, “And they weren’t always nice letters.” Also, like Colette’s parents before them, the warmhearted Darbons become a substitute family for Antoine, inviting him for meals and sending him vitamins so that he doesn’t get sick while working nights at the hotel. Christine’s father even owns a garage, as Liliane Litvin’s stepfather and Colette’s stepfather both did. (The fact that Christine calls him “Lucien” might suggest that he’s actually her stepfather, though that’s not stated, and they do have the same last name. Initially, Darbon was supposed to be Colette’s surname, but Truffaut appears to have dropped it somewhere between the first treatment and the final screenplay of Antoine and Colette, and her surname is never revealed. He may have taken it from the actor who played her stepfather, François Darbon.)

Christine herself is quite different from Colette, however. She’s sweeter, more demure, although she also has a playful side and a willingness to take action when necessary. Most strikingly, she’s open to a romantic relationship with Antoine, at least most of the time. (Again, it can be difficult to tell exactly where they stand at any given moment, or what happened between them in the past.) She kisses him on the cheek (though she’s less receptive to his more passionate response), takes his hand while they’re sitting in a nightclub and even contrives to seduce him while her parents are away.

But the very girl-next-door Christine lacks the comparative mystery and exoticism of Fabienne Tabard, a woman who’s older, married and cultured enough to speak fluent English, and once he meets her, Antoine spurns Christine. “Love and friendship go hand in hand with admiration. And I don’t admire you!” he says. “Even when I thought I loved you, I didn’t admire you, and that’s the truth.” Christine, who can’t figure out how she offended him, is baffled and irritated.

To Antoine, Fabienne is “an apparition” and the real-life embodiment of Madame de Morsauf from Balzac’s The Lily of the Valley. Fabienne herself visits him in his room and sets about to correct his overly romantic view of her and of women in general:

Besides, I’m not an apparition. I am a woman, which is just the opposite. For example, before coming here this morning, I put on my makeup, powdered my nose and made up my eyes. And crossing town I noticed every other woman had done the same, to please herself or out of regard for others. You say I’m exceptional. You’re right. I am exceptional. Every woman is exceptional in her turn. You there, you’re quite exceptional yourself. Did you know your fingerprints are unique in the entire world? You are unique. We’re both unique. Unique and irreplaceable.

In many ways, it’s similar to a scene that would appear in Truffaut’s Day for Night five years later. The lovelorn actor Alphonse, played by Léaud, is upset because his girlfriend — named Liliane, as it happens — has left him. “I believed women were magic,” he tells his co-star Julie. She replies, “Of course they’re not magic — or else men are too. Everyone’s magic… or no one is.”

Stolen Kisses also includes a rather unsettling character who acts as a kind of comment on Antoine’s romanticism, one quite different from Fabienne’s sensible speech. Throughout the movie, a man in a trench coat (Serge Rousseau) is seen following Christine, and eventually he addresses her:

I know I’m no stranger to you. I’ve been watching you in secret for some time, but these last few days, I’ve made no effort to hide, and I know now that the moment has come. 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 with 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. I understand this is all too sudden for you to say yes right away, and that you need time to sever the temporary ties that bind you to temporary people. I am definitive.

As he walks away, he adds, “I am very happy.” Christine tells Antoine, “That man is crazy!” and though Antoine agrees (“Yes, I’m sure he is”), he looks far more perturbed than she does. The fact that Christine has a stalker is reason enough for concern, of course, but the “definitive man” comes across as a more extreme version of Antoine himself, or a more assertive version who says what Antoine merely thinks and feels. Antoine may also be wondering if he is, in fact, a “temporary person”; at the very least, his job record would suggest as much. The encounter, brief as it is, casts a foreboding shadow over his future with Christine. Truffaut must have considered it important, because it was one of the few starting points that he gave Revon and de Givray, along with the title, the army material and the “oui, monsieur” incident.

Despite being nostalgic and out of step with the highly politicized atmosphere of 1968, Stolen Kisses was a success both critically and commercially, becoming Truffaut’s most profitable film since The 400 Blows. After it premiered at the Cinémathèque Française, Henri Langlois approached him and said, “This time don’t keep us waiting; I want to see those two young people married.” It would not be long before Antoine Doinel returned to the screen.

Gallery

Sources

Dawson, Jan. “Getting Beyond the Looking Glass.” Sight and Sound Winter 1973/74: 46-47.

De Baecque, Antoine, and Serge Toubiana. Truffaut: A Biography. Trans. Catherine Temerson. New York: Knopf, 1999.

De Gramont, Sanche. “Life Style of Homo Cinematicus.” New York Times 15 June 1969.

“François Truffaut, dix ans, dix films.” Cinéastes de notre temps. 1970.

Graham, Rhys. “Because of Tenderness: Thoughts on the Performance of Jean-Pierre Léaud.” Senses of Cinema July 2000.

Grissemann, Stefan. “Kino-Ikone Jean-Pierre Léaud über Cannes, Angst und Politik.” Profil 22 May 2014.

Ingram, Robert. François Truffaut: The Complete Films. Cologne: Taschen, 2013.

Jones, Kent. “Passion Player.” Village Voice 11 May 1999.

Le Berre, Carole. François Truffaut at Work. Trans. Bill Krohn. London: Phaidon, 2005.

Peron, Didier, and Antoine de Baecque. “Leaud, retour à Doinel.” Libération 31 August 2001.

Ross, Walter S. “The Actor the French Dig the Most.” New York Times 28 June 1970.

Truffaut, François. The Adventures of Antoine Doinel. Trans. Helen G. Scott. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971.

Truffaut, François. Correspondence 1945-1984. Trans. Gilbert Adair. New York: Cooper Square, 2000.

Two in the Wave. Dir. Emmanuel Laurent. Lorber Films, 2010.

The Adventures of Antoine Doinel
The 400 Blows
(1959) | Antoine and Colette (1962) | Stolen Kisses (1968)
Bed and Board (1970) | Love on the Run (1979)

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2 thoughts on “The Adventures of Antoine Doinel: Stolen Kisses (1968)

  1. Your series is giving me a much greater appreciation for Truffaut’s work. I think you have a book in the making! 😉

    Looking at the images you’ve posted, I’m surprised at how modern this film looks. The sets and costumes are very much of its time, but if I didn’t know what year this film was released, I would never guess.

    Liked by 1 person

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