Arguably the greatest French comic was Jacques Tati and like Chaplin or Keaton he seemed to have an impeccable handle on physical comedy, combining the human body with the visual landscape to develop truly wonderful bits of humor. Bed and Board is a hardly a comparable film, but it pays some homage to the likes of Mon Oncle and Playtime. There’s a Hulot doppelganger at the train station, while Antoine also ends up getting hired by an American Hydraulics company led by a loud-mouthed American (Billy Kearns) who closely resembles one of Hulot’s pals from Playtime. Furthermore, there are supporting cast members with a plethora of comic quirks. The man who won’t leave his second story apartment until Petain is dead and buried at Verdun. No one seems to have told him that the old war horse has been dead nearly 20 years. The couple next door that is constantly running late, the husband pacing in the hallway as his wife rushes to make it to his opera in time. There’s the local strangler who is kept at arm’s length until the locals learn something about him. The rest are a smattering of characters who pop up here and there at no particular moment. Their purpose is anyone’s guess, and yet they certainly do entertain.
In other ways, Francois Truffaut is a very different director than Tati when it comes to his filmmaking. His protagonist Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is a bit autobiographical, but he still seemingly functions outside of normal time and space as he continues to float easily in between jobs and doesn’t seem to worry much about anything. First, it’s a flower shop that doesn’t get much traffic and then the American company where Doniel hardly does anything but pilot remote control boats. But like before in Stolen Kisses (1968), it is Christine (Claude Jade) who still gives him the edge of humanity. Early on we notice that they go to the cellar — the same cellar he made advances on her two years prior — except now things are a little different. They are married now and happily so. He experiments with dying flowers while she takes on a violinist pupil. Soon enough follows a baby boy with his loving parents dueling on what to name him. They even have a dinner of baby food, because who wants to go to the store like a grown-up? At night they cuddle up and read together in bed.
But as Truffaut usually does, he digs into his character’s flaws that suspiciously look like they might be his own. Antoine easily gets swayed by the demure attractiveness of a Japanese beauty (Hiroko Berghauer), and he begins spending more time with her. Thus the marital turbulence sets in thanks in part to Antoine’s needless infidelity –revealed to Christine through a troubling bouquet of flowers. It’s hard to keep up pretenses when the parent’s come over again and Doinel even ends up calling on a prostitute one more. It’s as if he always reverts back to the same self-destructive habits. He never quite learns.
Christine doesn’t deserve a cad such as him, but then again perhaps many people aren’t deserving of love, but we willingly give it to them anyways. The bottom line is that Antoine and Christine still love each other to the end, but that doesn’t make married life with a small child any less difficult. As is his proclivity, Truffaut gracefully touches on what it means to progress from adolescence to adulthood, singleness to married life. He does it with comedic touches that are forever underlined by searing romantic drama. It’s continually engaging just as Antoine Doinel continues to captivate us. Would I ever want to know him personally? Probably not, but I am intrigued by his character. If nothing else it’s a worthy continuation of Antoine and Christine’s life story. Antoine is not the only one smitten with Christine. She wins over the audience as well.
“I’m not like you. I don’t like things fuzzy and vague and ambiguous. I like things to be clear.” – Christine talking to Antoine