Stolen Kisses (Baisers volés) Review

François Truffaut made his name with his debut feature The Four Hundred Blows (Les quatre cents coups) in 1959. Inspired by Truffaut’s own childhood, it told the story of young Antoine Doinel (played by a fifteen-year-old actor, Jean-Pierre Léaud) who is neglected by his parents and turns to a life of truancy and petty crime. At the end of the film he makes a break for freedom from his reform school, turning to face the camera in a freeze-frame, one of the cinema’s great final shots.

Maybe Truffaut could have left Antoine there, but he returned to his alter ego three years later. L’amour à vingt ans (usually known as Love at Twenty but rendered by the subtitles on this disc as When You’re Twenty and In Love) was a five-nation, five-director portmanteau film exploring the theme of the title. Truffaut’s contribution was “Antoine et Colette”. Antoine is now twenty (and is played again by Léaud, who was actually eighteen at the time). He falls for Colette (Marie-France Pisier) but spends the evening with her parents while she is out on a date. This half-hour piece was generally reckoned as one of the highlights of the film – which admittedly I have not seen. Truffaut felt he still had more material about Antoine Doinel that he could use, and in 1968 continued his adventures at feature length.

Truffaut made a few stipulations to his co-writers Claude de Givray and Bernard Revon. Firstly, the film would be called Baisers voles. Secondly it would begin with Antoine being discharged from the army. Also it would include a scene where a beautiful woman (Delphine Seyrig) asks Antoine if he likes music, and he, flustered by his attraction to her, says “Yes, sir”. In general, Truffaut concentrated on the love story between Antoine and Christine (Claude Jade) while his co-writers dealt with the situations Antoine found himself in – as a hotel clerk, a private detective, a shoe salesman and a TV repair man.

Stolen Kisses was made in the middle of turmoil: 1968 was the year when Paris’s students went onto the streets. At the time, Truffaut was defending Henri Langlois’s sacking from the Cinematheque Française. (The film is dedicated to him.) But Stolen Kisses is lighter than air: not for nothing was Truffaut a fan of Ernst Lubitsch. The episodic storyline is more tightly knit together that at first appears and Truffaut’s camerawork is fluidity itself. Stolen Kisses was the first of the Doinel films to be shot in colour, and Denys Clerval’s camerawork has a naturalness that Truffaut would later refine in his many collaborations with Nestor Almendros – which would include two further Doinel films, Bed and Board (Domicile conjugal, 1970) and L’amour en fuite (Love on the Run, 1979).

Stolen Kisses is one of six Truffaut films released by 2 Entertain/Cinema Club. The DVD is encoded for Region 2 only.

The transfer and extras are ported from the French edition from MK2, which is available singly and as part of a box set, Les aventures d’Antoine Doinel, which includes a bonus DVD, a documentary Léaud l’unique. However, there are some notable differences between the two editions. The MK2 disc is a DVD-10 (the film on one side, “Antoine et Colette” and the extras on the other), while 2 Entertain’s edition is one-sdied but dual-layered. The MK2 has English subtitles as an option on only the feature and on “Antoine et Colette”, while the 2 Entertain subtitles the commentary and extras as well.

Both editions show the feature in its original ratio of 1.66:1 with anamorphic enhancement. The picture is sharp and the colours have that heightened tone which is characteristic of late 60s camerawork. There is a little grain here and there. “Antoine et Colette” was shot in black and white Scope and is presented in a ratio of 2.35:1. The DVD presents just the opening credits from Love at Twenty, followed directly by “Antoine et Colette”, altogether running 29:04.

The soundtrack on both the feature and the short is the original mono and is absolutely fine, with dialogue, sound effects and music very well balanced.

Critic Serge Toubiana gives a short introduction to the film (3:17) and also hosts the commentary track, which also features co-writer Claude de Givray and actress Claude Jade. Both of these are in French with English subtitles. The commentary is consistently interesting, with de Givray especially giving a lot of insight into the scripting process and Truffaut’s working methods. The remaining extra is the theatrical trailer, which is in anamorphic 1.66:1 and runs 3:51.

Some of the extras of the MK2 edition have not been brought across. These include a 1970 interview with Truffaut talking about the Doinel films, 1968 archives concerning the Langlois affair, a short film in support of Langlois, footage from the 1968 Cannes festival, an introduction to “Antoine et Colette” by Serge Toubiana and a commentary on the short by Marie-France Pisier., and trailers for other Truffaut films. The Langlois material is probably rather too obscure for general audiences outside France, but the other extras might be useful. However, the MK2 disc presents them without any English subtitles.

Stolen Kisses remains one of Truffaut’s most engaging films, seemingly quite lightweight but full of the kind of craft that conceals itself. Although not all of the MK2 extras have been brought across, enough of them have to make 2 Entertain’s DVD a worthwhile purchase for English speakers.

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