In 1969, François Truffaut began working on a sequel to Stolen Kisses, one that — as Henri Langlois had requested — would depict the married life of Antoine Doinel and Christine Darbon. “Compared to Stolen Kisses, I’m trying to be much funnier when it’s funny, and much more dramatic when it’s dramatic,” he said during an on-set interview in 1970. “It’s the same mixture. We’re just trying to increase the dosage.” The film was to be called Domicile conjugal (Bed and Board).
As he had for Stolen Kisses, Truffaut collaborated on the story and screenplay with Bernard Revon and Claude de Givray, and according to Carole Le Berre in François Truffaut at Work, they “left the dialogue in a certain number of scenes to the inspiration of the shoot, notably the marital scenes, whose content and direction were often outlined and left to be filled in.” In a 1986 interview, Revon said that the director “didn’t like things to be too premeditated,” and de Givray added that “there was also what the actors brought to the story.” Truffaut expressed a similar sentiment in his book of Antoine Doinel screenplays: “It was from Jean Renoir that I learned that actors are always more important than the characters they portray, or, to put it in a different way, that we should always sacrifice the abstract for the concrete.” Claude Jade returned as Christine and, naturally, Jean-Pierre Léaud was back as Antoine. Truffaut incorporated elements of Léaud’s life into the film, but his own life and memories, as usual, provided the most material. Filming ran from January to March of 1970.
Following the credits, Bed and Board opens on the legs of a woman walking down the street, carrying a violin case. She stops to buy two pounds of tangerines. “Here you are, mademoiselle,” the shopkeeper says, but the customer corrects her: “Not mademoiselle — madame!” It is, of course, Christine, and she and Antoine are now married. The film depicts their everyday life together in a largely episodic fashion, from playful moments to arguments to job struggles. Christine gives music lessons in their apartment; Antoine, last seen working as a television repairman, has a job dyeing flowers in the courtyard outside their building, although his disastrous attempt to create “absolute red” puts an end to that. Thanks to a case of mistaken identity, he manages to get hired by an American-owned hydraulics company, where he’s given a fittingly juvenile job piloting model boats with a remote control.
Eventually, Christine gives birth to a son. She wants to name him Ghislain after her uncle. “Ghislain sounds snobbish, like he wears little velvet knickers,” says Antoine, who prefers the name Alphonse. Christine thinks it “sounds like a peasant”; Antoine registers the baby as Alphonse anyway, much to Christine’s annoyance. She soon forgives him, or at least accepts the situation, but when Antoine begins an affair with Kyoko (Hiroko Berghauer), a woman he meets at work, Christine isn’t so willing to overlook his childish, self-centered behavior.
Speaking about his work with Truffaut, Bernard Revon said, “His feature films were really collections of short films but with the same characters and the same conflicts. In a way, he wanted each reel of the film — a reel is ten to twelve minutes — to have a beginning, a middle and an end. There’s an overall dramatic progression, but within each reel… Like a series of ten short films, but with the same characters, of course.” This description fits Bed and Board quite well. The first half, in particular, contains a number of incidents that are resolved or dropped within a few minutes, or just played for quick laughs: Christine tries to get a student’s mother to pay her, the Doinels obtain a telephone, Antoine runs out of toothpaste. They help sketch out the couple’s marriage, adding resonance to the second half, in which Antoine’s affair with Kyoko and the resulting separation become the dominant themes; however, this format may make Bed and Board somewhat less accessible than its predecessors. It certainly wouldn’t be incomprehensible to a viewer who hadn’t seen any of the earlier films, but it’s much easier to appreciate with a thorough knowledge of Antoine’s character and his previous misadventures, as well as a preexisting fondness for both Antoine and Christine.
Moreover, Bed and Board has an in-jokey quality that the other Doinel movies don’t have, or at least not so obviously. There are quite a few nods — some blatant, some subtle — to Truffaut’s own work and the work of other filmmakers, and not understanding these allusions can cause certain scenes to lose much of their impact. Among them:
- The courtyard outside of Antoine and Christine’s apartment is an homage to Jean Renoir’s The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936), which takes place in a similar setting with a diverse cast of characters. Renoir was one of Truffaut’s mentors and biggest influences.
- On the wall of the couple’s apartment, there’s a picture of actor Oskar Werner dressed as Mozart. The same picture had appeared in Truffaut’s 1962 film Jules and Jim, in which Werner played the eponymous Jules.
- Antoine calls “Madame Eustache” and asks her to tell “Jean” about Alphonse’s birth. Léaud had starred in Jean Eustache’s Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes in 1967, and in 1973 he would play one of the most significant roles of his career in Eustache’s magnum opus The Mother and the Whore.
- Antoine and Christine see their neighbor doing a Delphine Seyrig impression on television. He starts out with dialogue from Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and then begins quoting Seyrig’s “I’m not an apparition, I am a woman” speech from Stolen Kisses. Although the oblivious Christine laughs, Antoine looks appropriately alarmed.
- Antoine goes to Kyoko’s apartment and brings a program with him so that they can decide which movie to see. The cover features a picture of Jeanne Moreau in Truffaut’s 1968 film The Bride Wore Black.
- Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot character makes a cameo at a train station, although it’s not Tati in the role. According to IMDb, he’s played by costume designer Jacques Cottin, who worked on several of Tati’s films. Additionally, actor Billy Kearns, who appears as Antoine’s American boss, had a prominent role in the Hulot movie Playtime (1967).
- Christine is a fan of dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Around the time of Bed and Board, Claude Jade was supposed to star opposite Nureyev in a movie about Vaclav Nijinsky, but the project was canceled. The cinematic connection is probably a coincidence, though, as Truffaut had other reasons for choosing the dancer: “Since Antoine Doinel deceives his wife with a very beautiful Japanese girl whom he idealizes, I felt that the only way to strike a balance was with Nureyev — which is to say a man that you don’t have to idealize to have everyone accept him as exceptional.”
- Not quite a film reference, but worth mentioning: Antoine and Christine’s apartment was in the same building as Truffaut’s production company, Les Films du Carrosse. The Carrosse sign can be seen near the beginning of the movie when Antoine and Christine encounter “the strangler” on the stairs. (As it happens, the company’s name is a film reference itself, taken from Renoir’s 1952 movie Le Carrosse d’or, or The Golden Coach.)
On a larger scale, Bed and Board was influenced by a number of American films from some three decades earlier. “I asked Claude de Givray and Bernard Revon to help me write a story on the young couple that, though essentially French, would be in the spirit of the American comedies of Leo McCarey, George Cukor and, of course, Lubitsch, who excels at injecting laughter into the events of everyday life,” Truffaut wrote in his introduction to the Antoine Doinel screenplays. The screenwriters said that Truffaut always wanted information to be delivered indirectly, a la Ernst Lubitsch. “How Antoine Doinel could learn that he’s going to be a dad… let’s think of Lubitsch!” de Givray quoted him. As for McCarey, cinematographer Néstor Almendros recalled that, prior to shooting Bed and Board, he and Truffaut screened the American director’s 1937 film The Awful Truth, a comedy about a divorcing husband and wife who keep interfering in each other’s love lives.
Truffaut also saw Bed and Board as a humorous reworking of his 1964 drama The Soft Skin. In it, a married middle-aged lecturer begins an affair with a young flight attendant and is soon unable to extricate himself from the tangled web he’s woven. When it premiered at Cannes, the film was panned by critics, who found it bourgeois, dull and toothless, and it lost money in France as a result; however, it was more popular elsewhere, particularly in Scandinavia. Léaud, who had worked on The Soft Skin as a trainee assistant director, described it as “a very beautiful film, but a severe failure. An adulterous affair treated as a tragedy — no one wanted to see that in 1964. Well, five years later, he made Bed and Board in contrast to The Soft Skin: the comedic version of adultery! Doinel allowed François to be lighter.” As Truffaut described it, “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to remake the same film and show that one can say all that while laughing instead of being gloomy.’ Which explains why we find similar scenes and enormous resemblances between these two films, because the second is the ‘happy’ remake of the first. But then when Bed and Board was finished, I perceived that it was sad too.”
Both The Soft Skin and Bed and Board were deeply personal to Truffaut. He was habitually unfaithful during his eight-year marriage to Madeleine Morgenstern, which ended in divorce in 1965, and he regarded both Antoine and Pierre Lachenay, the protagonist of the earlier film, as alter egos. “It is my feeling that I had a rather severe approach to Antoine Doinel in Bed and Board,” he wrote in his introduction to the Doinel screenplays. “I looked at him with the same critical eye I had for Pierre Lachenay in The Soft Skin. This is probably because in Bed and Board we are no longer dealing with an adolescent, but with an adult, and even though Antoine Doinel and Pierre Lachenay resemble me like two brothers, I am never as gentle with adults as I am with adolescents.”
In each film, Truffaut condensed his many infidelities into a single affair, and therefore, as in Stolen Kisses, it’s somewhat difficult to pin down or sort out the autobiographical elements of Bed and Board, though it’s possible to draw connections. At the time of Antoine and Colette, for instance, Truffaut moved into a hotel because he had fallen in love with Marie-France Pisier, although he cited other reasons and returned to his wife a month later; Antoine moves to a hotel after Christine finds out about Kyoko. Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana also report that Truffaut was involved with two Japanese women during a 1963 trip to Tokyo, one of whom — named Kyoko — wrote him notes similar to the ones her fictional namesake sends Antoine. The most jaw-dropping example may be the scene where, after their separation, Antoine calls Christine during a date with Kyoko to complain that he’s bored; Morgenstern, speaking to Libération in 2014, said that she had experienced that “absurd situation” in real life with Truffaut. However, in the same interview, she pointed out that Christine was based on another girl, not her, and said that she was more upset by The Soft Skin — which, besides resembling her marriage, was actually filmed in the apartment where she, Truffaut and their two daughters lived at the time — than by the Doinel films.
The director was well aware of the pitfalls inherent in combining autobiography and fiction, and in Bed and Board he began to acknowledge them through his work itself. Early on, Antoine runs into a former co-worker and tells him that he’s married, and that his wife gives music lessons. “You always did love music… and nice bourgeois girls!” the man says. “I never thought of it like that,” Antoine replies. “I don’t fall in love with a girl — I fall in love with her whole family. Her mother, her father. I like a girl with good parents. I enjoy parents — as long as they’re not mine!” Clearly, all is still not well between Antoine and his own parents. Later, after declaring that the newborn Alphonse will be “a great writer” (“Victor Hugo or nothing!”), he sets to work on a book of his own. Although he refers to it as a novel, implying that it’s a piece of fiction, it becomes clear that it’s based on his life. Christine disapproves. “I don’t like this business of writing about your childhood, dragging your parents through the mud. I don’t know much, but one thing I do know: If you use art to settle accounts, it’s no longer art” — a declaration that doubles as self-criticism on Truffaut’s part. Relations with his parents had improved somewhat following their 1962 separation and subsequent divorce, but he was never particularly close to his mother, whom he continued to resent. She died in August of 1968, and upon emptying out her apartment, he discovered “press clippings about him, with deletions and markings, which proved that she had been interested in him and not indifferent,” Morgenstern told his biographers. It’s hardly surprising, then, that he felt compelled to apologize for attacking her and his stepfather in The 400 Blows, even if his feelings toward her were still complicated.
Antoine admits that he shares some of Christine’s misgivings, but as a general rule, he lacks that degree of maturity and self-awareness. In fact, in Antoine and Colette and the successive films, his maturity level appears to be inversely proportional to his age. The Antoine of Antoine and Colette may have been inept in love, but he managed to live alone and hold down a job, even receiving a promotion; the Antoine of Stolen Kisses was an incompetent bumbler ruled by his romanticism; the Antoine of Bed and Board, still incompetent and romantic (if less bumbling in a physical sense), is also more self-centered and petulant than before — childish, not just childlike. The incident with the baby’s name stands out, as does the sarcastic “thank you letter” he writes to the senator who helped the Doinels obtain a telephone. “You’re a selfish man,” Christine says. “Everyone has to help you, never vice versa.” Later, she tells him that he’s insensitive. “Always what you want! Kiss you when you want, leave you alone when you want. I’m not at your beck and call. At least not anymore.”
If Antoine learned anything from Fabienne’s speech in Stolen Kisses, he seems to have forgotten it by the time he lays eyes on Kyoko. Initially, he conceals the affair and lies to Christine that he had to work late (a reemergence of the secretive, dishonest Antoine of The 400 Blows), but when she finds out, he has an argument ready: “If she were just another woman, I’d understand you being jealous. But Kyoko is another world.” It’s very much like his belief that Fabienne was “an apparition” (which also led him to reject the more familiar Christine), and it shows that he hasn’t overcome his old habit of idealizing women, especially women who strike him as exotic or mysterious. (Colette, the original object of his affections, receives an indirect mention as “the girl from the Youth Concerts”; evidently, Christine has heard all about her.) Perhaps the end of his infatuation with Fabienne — she proposed a one-time sexual encounter after which they would never see each other again — was too romantic in and of itself to teach him his lesson. His relationship with Kyoko, in contrast, soon goes down a much more mundane path. “It can’t work. She and I hardly talk,” he complains to Christine, and adds that at restaurants “she smiles and expects me to make small talk. I can’t even eat. It’s terrible!” In other words, she’s a human being, not a goddess or some other magical creature, and that’s not what Antoine thought he was getting into. Shortly thereafter, he affectionately tells Christine, “You’re my little sister, my daughter, my mother.” She responds, “I’d have liked to be your wife too.”
Notably, while Antoine might be said to “initiate” the affair when he returns Kyoko’s lost bracelet, she kisses him first and later sends her roommate away so that they can be alone in her apartment; he, of course, goes along with it. Then, when Christine learns about his infidelity, she’s the one who really brings about the separation, whereas Antoine would be content to continue living with her and seeing Kyoko:
Antoine: The world won’t stop turning if we sleep in the same bed, you know.
Christine: I’m not like you. I don’t like things fuzzy and vague and ambiguous. I like things to be clear.
Antoine: Listen, Christine…
Christine: Don’t come near me. There’s nothing between us.
Antoine: Then what the hell am I doing here?
Christine: Good question!
Antoine: Fine! I’m splitting!
Truffaut once said, “I have often been accused of portraying weak men and decisive women, women who direct events, but I think that’s how it is in real life,” and no doubt he had Antoine in mind as one of these weak men. Sylvana, the Doinels’ neighbor, puts it more bluntly: “All men are children.”
Antoine’s desire to have both the comforts of domestic life as well as the excitement of new romances was, not surprisingly, something he shared with his creator. According to de Baecque and Toubiana, Truffaut’s work on Jules and Jim in 1961 “made him come to the painful realization that he found living as a couple at once indispensable and unbearable.” Again, Antoine seems to lack this degree of self-awareness, but the same principle certainly applies to him. As ever, he’s torn between his often-conflicting urge for freedom and need for affection, and this tends to make him something of a misfit — like the one flower in the bunch that won’t change colors when he tries to dye it.
After finishing Bed and Board, Truffaut described the character thus in his introduction to the screenplays:
Antoine proceeds in life like an orphan and looks for foster families, but once he has found them, he tends to run away, for he remains by nature an escapist. Doinel does not openly oppose society (and in this sense he is not a revolutionary), but he is wary of it and goes his own way, on the outskirts of society. He looks for acceptance by those he loves and admires, for his good will is unconditional. Antoine Doinel is far from being an exemplary character: he has charm and takes advantage of it, he lies a great deal and demands more love than he is willing to offer; he is not a man in general, he is a man in particular. Antoine Doinel loves life; he especially loves no longer being a child — that is, someone who has no say about what he does, someone who is left aside, who is either overlooked or brutally rejected.
By this point, Antoine Doinel had taken on a life of his own to such a degree that he influenced Truffaut and Léaud, not just vice versa. “When the film is finished, I become my audience again,” said Truffaut, “and the character of Antoine Doinel became food for thought to me. The strangest thing was Jean-Pierre Léaud’s reaction, quite similar to mine. After having seen a first cut of Bed and Board, he came to tell me, ‘You see, I realized toward the end of the shoot that this film wouldn’t be very funny. I felt that it would be rather sad. Now I must change, I have to behave myself better with girls.’ No matter how I told him, ‘But it’s not you, it’s Doinel,’ he remained shaken up and repeated, ‘No, no, I really have to make an effort to behave differently.’”
But Truffaut had grown tired of his cinematic alter ego. “After Bed and Board, in 1970, François was frustrated by the character,” Léaud said in a 2001 interview. “He no longer had the desire to tell his story. And Doinel could not continue all alone, because he had no real life, in society, with others.” Even during pre-production, Truffaut affirmed that this would be the final film in the series, and he explained his decision in an on-set interview that aired on the television program Midi Magazine: “The ideas I get about Antoine Doinel, and the way Jean-Pierre Léaud plays him, are closely tied to adolescence. But starting with this film, he’s reached adulthood, and there’s no reason to go on.” In addition, he felt that Léaud had become too strongly associated with the character, and he wanted to remove this potential impediment to the actor’s career. Years later, on a 1981 episode of Champ contre champ, he said, “I have a lot of fun writing dialogue for Antoine Doinel, for Jean-Pierre. I laugh out loud as I write. The problem is I get a kick out of putting him in situations that are — not degrading, but not to his advantage. The characters around him look strong, and he looks too weak. It’s a high price to pay for the fun I have when I’m writing or filming, and he has when he’s acting, because he loves to play the part. But sometimes the public gets confused. They forget it’s fiction. They can form an inaccurate opinion of the actor, because what he contributes is taken from the script.”
Although Bed and Board was a success upon its release in September 1970, Truffaut would not change his mind about bringing back Antoine Doinel — at least not for a while.
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