Sunday, July 07, 2013

The No. 1 French Detective Agency

That's what I get for doing Stooge shorts and Popeye cartoons all the time.  Here's an actual film held in high regard, and what do I have to say about it?  Nothing!  Until now, that is.  At the very least, it does prove that film critics do have some usefulness.  Case in point: I think it was David Edelstein who introduced the film on Turner Classic Movies, and he pointed out that Stolen Kisses was a nice break for Truffaut, having just done Fahrenheit 451 and ... some other film that was rigidly planned and not that much fun to make.  It was a chance for Truffaut to tackle the subject nearest and dearest to his heart... himself!  What Rabbit Engstrom is to John Updike, what Happy Madison is to Adam Sandler, so too does Truffaut have an alter ego: an on-screen one named Antoine Doinel, played by a dude named Jean-Pierre Léaud.  He's in the middle of the spectrum between Crispin Glover and Christian Bale, at least he was in his youth.
I hate to spoil the plot... so here goes.  The film starts with shots of Paris, and a scratchy old record, thereby informing the start of most of Woody Allen's films.  Doinel gets a dishonorable discharge from the French Army just after getting taken out of the stockade.  He immediately goes to a pay-by-the-hour whorehouse, taking the advice of his stockade mates a little too literally.  The first girl he picks, however, is a bit too picky, so he promptly goes on to girl #2.  The camera stays on the staircase as the same girl goes down the steps with one customer, then back up with Doinel.  And then... it's off to see Christine, the girlfriend!  Oh, the French, they are so nonchalant and cavalier about sex.
Doinel goes to his girlfriend's house.  She's not there, but her parents welcome him with open arms.  Odd!  We never meet Doinel's mum and dad.  Sorry... spoiler alert.  They feed him cheese, and the dad gets him a job at a hotel.  He promptly loses the job when he lets a private detective into one of the rooms.  His next job: the detective agency, where he becomes a dedicated yet flaky employee.
Doinel's assigned to the case of an upper-class nudnik who's pretty well-off and full of self-confidence, and yet he doesn't understand why people don't like him.  Kinda like why the left, the middle and some of the right don't like Bill O'Reilly.  The guy is played by that prominent actor Michael Lonsdale, and if you're like me, you might remember him best from The Day of the Jackal.  In a way, both characters are kinda similar.  To give you an idea of the character, he invites Doinel to dinner, and in front of his wife, he says that the best way to learn English is to go to bed with an English girl.  It worked for him, after all!  (An Australian girl for him, incidentally)  And here I am wasting all this time with Rosetta Stone. 
Okay, so I won't give away all the secrets.  But I will talk a bit about the central relationship between Antoine Doinel and Christine.  She's pretty, but a bit of a cold fish.  I mean, the girl who recognizes Antoine on his little stakeout... am I right?  She's taken, though, and has a husband and a kid, for God's sake.  But apparently, that doesn't stop French women from having some fun!  Christine tries to make out with Antoine in their basement, but he kisses like a starved rat getting its first taste of food in days.  We see Christine leaving as Antoine's stopping by one time.  Ouch.  They have a rather definitive break-up while walking in the park one day... but they can't help getting back together, after Doinel gets a new job.  Maybe they were meant to be a married couple after all.  You can find out in Bed and Board, or one of the other Doinel movies.  There's a lot of them, you know.
I hate to spoil it, but there's a recurring thread through the whole movie that gets resolved at the end.  I'll just say that the conclusion that Christine comes to is the right one.  And I'll conclude with... well, what can I say?  I'm a sucker for a foreign movie that's not based on a comic book or a video game.  Some real frickin' life for a change, for God's sake!!  Also, it gave me a chance to try and practice some of my French.  Alas, I only took it for four years in high school, so I think I'm still just at a fourth grade level.  I recognized "eyes" and "nose"... so, for beginning French students, you could do worse.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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