In Bed and Board we pick up with Antoine and Christine several years after they have married. Christine gives lessons to young prodigies whose parents’ forget to pay and Antoine dyes flowers always searching for the perfect shade of red. All seems to be perfect in their little world full of lively neighbors and interesting escapades. However after Antoine loses his flower dying job and gets a job at an American firm operating toy boats (for what reason seems particularly unclear), Christine finds out she is pregnant and their world turns upside down. Overjoyed by the prospect but also a little nervous, Antoine throws himself into his work forgetting to get her flowers when the baby boy finally comes. While a tour is being conducted of his mobile boat aqueduct construction thing, he falls in love with a Japanese woman. Maybe love might be too strong a word. He realizes that she is completely different from his independent French love and falls for the idea of a Japanese woman more than her in particular. Christine finds out and throws him out quite justly. Forced to live in a hotel and only visit his son, whom he named without Christine’s permission, he goes out on dates with this Japanese woman only to find out she is incredibly dull. He realizes that he made a mistake and wants to go back to Christine. In a scene that is surprisingly touching, Antoine calls Christine asking for advice to end the relationship and dinner with this Japanese woman. She keeps ordering entrees and he keeps going up to the phone booth (remember those?) in order to call Christine. By the end of the film, they are together again and in love.
In Stolen Kisses, there was only a hint of whimsy and absurdity evident in the man following Christine only to find out that he wants to date her or in Antoine’s obvious failures in following people in his job as a private detective. But it seemed overall to be a serious film full of doubt and uncertainty. Bed and Board seems to build on this absurdity and make it more exaggerated. About half way through the film there was a cameo by Jacques Tati as his character Monsieur Hulot. In a joyful surprise (I love M. Hulot, I mean how can I not? He is so incredibly cute!) M. Hulot has trouble getting on the same train as Antoine. This scene demonstrates how the other scenes surrounding it are in fact absurd to some degree. Antoine spends time dipping white carnations into a tub full of rolling smoke for god’s sake. A recurring joke throughout the film involves Antoine and Christine’s neighbors. Everyday around the same time, a big bald man paces back and forth in front of his door waiting for his wife to come out. As she shouts at him that she is coming, he takes her fur coat and purse and throws them down the staircase. He then runs down the staircase and his wife struggles to catch up to him as she picks up her coat and bag. At first glance this seems to be a demonstration of anger and impatience. The event is repeated several times throughout the crumbling and resurgence of Antoine and Christine’s relationship until it is repeated with Antoine as the man pacing back and forth and Christine needing to pick up her coat and bag off of the stairs. The bald man and his wife help her put her coat on and the woman tells her husband they are now truly in love. She has a point. The need to have your wife with you even if she is running late and she gets on your nerves is just another expression of love albeit in a round about way.
I have to say that I liked this film way more than I liked Stolen Kisses. The two main characters were on a more level playing field and their ability to still love each other even after Antoine cheats and destroys his home life was quite beautiful. The story may be a light one, but it is weighed down by Jean-Pierre Leaud’s performance in a good way. He never treats Antoine like a bad person or a flighty person, but gives his character real motivations. I have to admit I am not the biggest fan of Leaud’s work outside of The 400 Blows, but he here really shines. Maybe it is because he has a partner that is on the same playing field as him in her acting abilities and their chemistry is palpable. Maybe it is Leaud finally maturing and relying less on the fact that he was that young kid in The 400 Blows. Either way my applause goes to Leaud and to Truffaut for making an enjoyable film.