Monday, June 9, 2008
Rants on Stolen Kisses
I've never really understood Hollywood's (and the public's) obsession with sequels. Why would you want to see the same characters doing the same things over again in basically the same film? It especially irritates me when it's done for nothing other than financial gain (Do you honestly believe Spielberg and Lucas' motive to drag out Harrison Ford for Indy 4 was to fulfill some artistic calling?). They are rarely ever as good as the original, but yet everyone keeps falling for them time and time again, believing that this time it will be worth it.
Until recently, I was proud to say that I neither understood nor fell for this sequel craze. But, then I saw Stolen Kisses (François Truffaut, 1968) and it immediately made sense to me. Seeing Jean-Pierre Léaud's Antoine Doinel on the screen again, a few years after the first time I saw and fell in love with The 400 Blows, just made me so happy I can barely describe it. At that point, it almost didn't even matter if what followed was going to be the biggest pile of crap ever: Antoine and I were reunited and all was good in the world. Thankfully, with Truffaut in the director's chair, no film is ever going to be a complete waste of time.
Stolen Kisses picks up with Antoine being dishonorably discharged from the Army for frequent AWOL's and a general poor attitude (Ah, some things never change). Antoine lands a job as a night clerk in a hotel, but is quickly fired. Eventually, he finds himself working at a detective's agency and this is where the bulk of Stolen Kisses takes place.
Léaud's Antoine is still the born loser that he was in The 400 Blows. Everything he touches seems to fall apart sooner or later. Whether it's his night clerk position, wrapping a shoe box to try to pass off as an employee at a shoe store or trying to romance an older woman (Delphine Seyrig), Antoine can't seem to catch a break. More than anything, Truffaut and Léaud pass Antoine as a sort of Chaplin-esque figure longing for romance but caught in the harshness of the cold, cruel world. There are also many visual throwbacks to Chaplin from the baggy pants/tight coat combination of Antoine's army uniform, to his many goofy expressions when caught in compromising situations (like the one at the top of this post when he has caught a woman cheating on her husband) to his one-legged stop right in front of the hotel where the prostitutes hang out right after he is discharged.
If anything has changed between The 400 Blows and Stolen Kisses, it's the overall tone that has done a complete 180. The 400 Blows was an almost straight drama (with some amusing asides) about juvenile delinquency in which you could feel Truffaut's own rough childhood coming in to play in every scene. Stolen Kisses, on the other hand, is a light and playful comedy as breezy as an early Buster Keaton short. One is not necessarily better than the other; they both suit their movies' needs perfectly. Stolen Kisses isn't interested in following a former delinquent trying to reform or get his life together. Truffaut instead wants to focus on a young, idealistic man searching for love while stumbling through whatever life throws his way.
Stolen Kisses is the rare sequel that takes its original and completely changes it around to make a completely different movie. It's the type of work we should be praising more in an era when Hollywood is greenlighting sequels to the most ridiculous movies (Transformers 2? Didn't we get enough robots destroying things the first time?) and Truffaut is the director we should be looking at to guide us in how to make a proper sequel. A-