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Movie Reviews

Stolen Kisses  

The 400 Blows (1959) was one of Truffaut's greatest films, a landmark in both French cinema and in the depiction of children, and one of the greatest of all films. The central character, Antoine Doinel, was played by Jean-Pierre Leaud, and Truffaut used the character and the actor for four sequels of varying quality. Stolen Kisses (1968) was the third film in the series, and is somewhat amusing, but barely able to stand with the classic which preceded it.


The story begins with Antoine just been released from an army prison, apparently for being such a goof-up. He is dishonourably discharged; much is made by the officer about why a fool like him would actually volunteer for the army. Immediately after this, Antoine embarks on a series of odd jobs. First he works as night security at a hotel, and after getting fired under unusual circumstances, he finds himself employed by a private investigation team. His investigating is a little shoddy at first: he gets noticed by the unwitting victims. Soon, however, he is able to situate himself quite nicely, and soon gets a couple of rather bizarre cases. One involves a guy who wants a magician friend followed, and another involves the owner of a shoe store who feels that nobody likes him, and needs somebody to spy on the employees. Antoine is then "hired" at the shoe store, so he can dig up some evidence.

Along with working life comes a love life, and Antoine has a fairly heavy-duty one. He has a female friend, whom he used to write to a lot in prison, but now is a bit less enamoured of her, maybe because she resists his advances. He makes do with other means, including the services of prostitutes, but afterwards by falling in lust over the wife of the shoe store owner. He idealizes this woman, going so far as to defend her in front of the employees he is supposed to be investigating, and, in turn, possibly sabotaging his work.

There is nothing really wrong with Stolen Kisses - it's a fluffy little movie, fairly harmless, and with some amusing moments. But it's really peculiar to watch this in the context of being a sequel to a much more serious and classic production. The 400 Blows is in a class by itself, with serious subject matter, a gritty, realistic style which broke new cinematic ground, and while it can't really be expected that Truffaut would or could make an equal to the original, it is really disorienting to see a sequel where that very same character, the character who caused havoc and turmoil within his family, who was a troubled delinquent, and who, in the last portion of the film, was sent off to a fairly harrowing stay at a boarding school, suddenly becomes a comical, romantic misfit/hero, getting into all sorts of shenanigans, fooling around with prostitutes and other girls, going ga-ga over a married woman. We went from a dark masterpiece to what every ignoramus thinks of when they think of a French movie. This is almost as if Spike Lee were to make a sequel to something like Do The Right Thing, in which we marvel at Mookie's side-splitting misadventures as a pizza delivery boy in the projects, while attempting to forget the fact that he was one of the instigators of a violent race riot in the original. In much the same vein, Stolen Kisses doesn't give us realism but, rather, employs much of what people think of when they think of French cinema. Everybody seems to be so blasé about sex; therefore, they sleep with everybody. There are many enigmatic scenes, and much pretentious navel-gazing. And everybody speaks French.

Antoine has turned out to be a bit of an oddball; maybe it was all that time confined to those boarding schools and army prisons. He has a lot of goofy expressions, and such, and overall, he acts very detached from everything around him. Somehow I'm not convinced that he can take anything very seriously, which was essentially his problem as a child in The 400 Blows, and perhaps may be the point here as well, although it's not exactly a cry for help, as it seemed to be in the original. His admiration for the shoe salesman's wife seems to be a romantic whim rather than serious conviction. It's just as easy for him to go out with prostitutes as it is to go after someone who's already been spoken for, and he has to learn a lesson about love and women. He has to make a decision on how to conduct his romantic life, and where to place his priorities.

There are some amusing moments; my favourite little moment was when the shoe salesman sets up a phony recruitment session so it would appear that Antoine was genuinely hired sight unseen, although I kind of wished to see some reaction shots of the other contenders for the job, either appalled or baffled that the boss would hire the kid who couldn't wrap a package up properly.

Stolen Kisses is pretty good, and is not a failure by any means, but it is not the best of Truffaut. If you are a big Truffaut fan, you will want to see this film, and there's no reason for you to be discouraged, although it's best that you know the facts. If you just want to see a fluffy French romantic comedy, this movie will still work for you, since you do not have to had seen The 400 Blows to understand this film. But The 400 Blows is the real deal, and it would be too bad if you decide to miss it.

David Macdonald

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