BED AND BOARD (François Truffaut, 1970)

There are at least two opposite ways to consider the fourth film in François Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical Antoine Doinel cycle, Domicile conjugal. If we take one view, Antoine (once again, and necessarily, Jean-Pierre Léaud) disintegrates into a bourgeois groove of complacency that completes the undoing of the rambunctious personality he exhibited in his mid-teens in The 400 Blows (1959). An inside-out view, though, suggests an alternative possibility: Antoine is still himself but is torn between impulses and the need to negotiate with the ordinary world which is poised to brand him “success” or “failure,” between what he wants to be and what the world has repeatedly told him he ought to be. The first view yields a captivating comedy; with the second view, however, everything, including Antoine’s marriage to Christine, is weighed against the boy that Antoine once was and, however dim his memory of this earlier incarnation, still keenly feels. The outcome of this view, close to devastating, suggests that our earlier selves aren’t always something we grow out of but with which some of us must constantly contend. Either way, Domicile conjugal ends the series, in effect leaving Antoine Doinel behind. (Truffaut, pursuing career resuscitation, belatedly added another film to it—one that overtly casts a backward look.)
     Antoine’s infidelity is both exotic—his partner in extramarital sex is Japanese—and tawdry. Antoine desperately sounds out his love for Christine, his commitment to their marriage, his connection to the raw being we all recall he once was. By degrees he has slipped into a role that periodically erupts into nonsense as he hopes against hope he can control his marital (and every other sort of) environment. “I’m never bored!” he announces.
     But are you scared? Dear Antoine, that’s what we want to know.

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