Sequel or Stand Alone? Stolen Kisses (1968)

STOLEN KISSES (1968)

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Sequels and continuing series installments have no obligation to adhere to the original tone of the work from which they derive. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977), a half-hour sitcom, had a spinoff, Lou Grant (1977-1982), that was an hour long drama. It worked because the characters were presented in a realistic light (well, not counting Ted Baxter) and so the shift was easy to achieve. But if the spinoff was a drama about a newspaper editor, and not a sitcom about a television news producer, why say it’s a spinoff at all? To leverage the character’s name, obviously. Moving in the opposite direction, François Truffaut thrust The 400 Blows upon the cinematic world in 1959, presenting a tough and passionate look at a troubled and confused youth, Antoine Doinel, as he makes his way through an uneasy childhood. Then, after a short film showing Doinel at twenty, gave the world Stolen Kisses, a lighthearted and at times utterly silly comedy about the same character now somehow transformed into Harold Lloyd, bumbling Jack-of-all-Trades. But if all of it is autobiographical of Truffaut himself, does it even matter?

I guess I’m not so much interested in Stolen Kisses, the movie, as in what it represents, that life holds no loyalty to genre tones. Truffaut based Antoine Doinel on himself and it seems entirely acceptable that a beautiful and dramatic look at childhood be followed up with a situational comedy about life in your twenties. If Truffaut’s childhood was troubling to him, it’s also true that he, like so many of us, had a third decade filled with confusion, indecision, and a clumsy search for meaning. If someone’s awkward first steps into the adult world are high comedy, why not present it as such?

When we first meet up with Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) in Stolen Kisses, he’s being dishonorably discharged from the army and the entire scene is handled in much the same tone as the scene in Animal House (1978), when the boys are read their grades before being kicked off campus. That is to say, not too seriously. Antoine heads back to Paris and attempts to rekindle a romance with Christine (Claude Jade). It seems to be going well until he is hired on at a private detective agency, after losing a job as a hotel clerk. At the agency, he is assigned the ridiculous case of George Tabard (Michel Lonsdale), a shoe store owner who wants the detective agency to find out why people don’t like him. It’s Michel Lonsdale so, naturally, he steals every one of his scenes. Once on the job as a shoe store clerk, Antoine encounters a problem: Fabienne, Tabard’s wife.  The problem is that he instantly falls in love with her. Since she is played by Delphine Seyrig, this is immediately and entirely believable.

STOLEN KISSES (1968)

There’s more to the story than that, plot-wise, but also a lot less, character-wise. Stolen Kisses is truly a case of “what you see is what you get.” There’s not a lot of deep insight being dredged up or tough truths being leveled. No, it’s pretty much a fluffy romantic comedy with no aspirations of giving us the boy from The 400 Blows as a now troubled and wounded young adult. It has none of that because that’s not how Truffaut saw himself at that period of his life. As such, Stolen Kisses works entirely on its own. In fact, I’d say it works better on its own than as a follow-up for the same character from The 400 Blows.

Imagine a character like Conrad Jarrett, as played by Timothy Hutton, in the film Ordinary People (1980), getting a second film, only this time, as a comedy. Despite all the heart breaking bleakness of his teen years as seen in that film, surely he also had a life filled with moments of romance and fun and lightness, too.  Now imagine Hutton playing him again and there is no mention of any of that earlier heartbreak. It might be a disappointing film based on expectations of the character from the first film. As a result, it might work better on its own than as a sequel at all.

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The more mid to late Truffaut I watch, the more I think I understand Jean-Luc Godard’s objection to Truffaut’s abandonment of politicized moviemaking. There’s a distinct lack of energy to many of them once he’s past Jules and Jim(1962). It almost seemed as if now that he’d found success, he’d rather not put too much of himself in each project. And when he did, he focused on the lighter side instead. There’s nothing in Stolen Kisses that feels urgent, or dangerous, or taboo. But if that’s not who Truffaut was then, there shouldn’t be. Truffaut had the honesty to switch tonal gears when the growing character demanded it. Stolen Kisses continues the story of Antoine Doinel, but it has no loyalty to the boy from The 400 Blows. They share a name, but life transformed the older one into something quite different, and Truffaut didn’t feel the need to force in a drama where there wasn’t one.

Greg Ferrara

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