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Noah Baumbach wrote that Francois Truffaut’s Bed and Board is a “comedy about marriage, the desire to escape it and the craftiness involved in running from one’s own desires.” Given Baumbach’s similar views of long term relationships, it’s easy to see why that’s his takeaway from the film. But there’s a strong case to be made that Bed and Board isn’t necessarily about marriage so much as it is about the idea of growing up and the disappointment we feel when we realize that adulthood isn’t exactly how we envisioned it to be as children.

As the fourth entry in Truffaut’s series of Antoine Doinel films, Bed and Board follows what has been quite a bit of growing up already. Bed and Board reveals Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) as a man now in his mid-twenties, hurtling towards domesticity with Christine (Claude Jade), his lover from Stolen Kisses. Antoine may have achieved a kind of family comfort that neither he nor Truffaut had as a youth, yet rather than enjoy that development, Antoine can’t help but sabotage his bliss.

Despite what Baumbach asserts, marriage itself is more a victim of Antoine’s continued rebellion than a target. Left without much in the way of authority figures to harass, Antoine instead turns his ire on the concept of adulthood as a whole. Initially this is shown through Antoine’s career choices, which seem more like the kind of jobs kids dream up than anything logical. Antoine manages to lose a job dyeing flowers but nonetheless lands on his feet with a new gig steering toy boats by remote control. It would seem like dream logic if it weren’t Antoine’s life.

Truffaut makes it clear that Antoine’s restlessness is his lone constant, a character trait plus insurmountable obstacle in one. The narrative of Bed and Board drives that point home, shifting between characters and stories to accent Antoine’s lack of focus. Even Truffaut’s use of color seems like a deliberate falsehood, a cover-up for the murky grays lurking beneath the surface as Antoine’s moodiness threatens to boil over.

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Which it inevitably does. When Antoine and Christine learn they’re about to have a child, Antoine comes face to face with the realization that his childishness has moved beyond charming to offensive and that being an adult is no longer an option to be delayed. But by that point it’s too late – Christine shuts Antoine out on the night of the boy’s birth and the two clash over naming him.

The distance between the couple is both understandable and tragic, a development that was easily predicted but is no less disappointing. Antoine’s immersion in an affair with a Japanese business woman is equally transparent, the move of a man who can’t stop thinking like a child and who, to paraphrase Christine, only knows what he wants. Having sought independence since his adolescence in The 400 Blows, Antoine realizes too late that obtaining that desire isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Without an anchor like Christine, to be “sister…daughter…mother,” or in other words, partner-in-crime, figure to protect and authority figure to disobey, Antoine is lost.

Though it’s far from Truffaut’s best work, Bed and Board may nonetheless be the best representation of Antoine’s appeal and the tragedy of his character. Everyone wishes they could remain a child forever, floating by on imagination and wonder without much in the way of responsibility or expectation, but few truly live that way. Truffaut delicately portrays the folly of such a desire without losing sight of its essential appeal. The 400 Blows may have shown us Antoine the Rebel and Stolen Kisses gave us Antoine the Romantic Fuck-up, but Bed and Board reveals Antoine as Sisyphus, seemingly doomed to roll the rock of childish antics up the hill of adulthood forever.

by Nick Hanover

See Also: Oeuvre: Truffaut- The Wild Child

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