Most of what follows is revised from my review of the 2Entertain/Cinema Club DVD, written for this site in 2007 here.
Maybe Truffaut could have left Antoine Doinel as he did at the end of The Four Hundred Blows, in close up in one of the cinema's great uses of freeze-frame. However, he returned to his alter ego three years later. Love at Twenty (L’amour à vingt ans) was a five-nation, five-director portmanteau film exploring the theme of the title. Truffaut’s contribution was “Antoine et Colette”. Antoine is now twenty (and is played again by Jean-Pierre Léaud, who was actually eighteen at the time). He falls for Colette (Marie-France Pisier) but spends the evening with her parents while she is out on a date. This half-hour piece was generally reckoned as one of the highlights of the film. Truffaut felt he still had more material about Antoine Doinel that he could use, and in 1968 continued his adventures at feature length. (“Antoine Collette”, without the rest of Love at Twenty has appeared in the past as an extra on DVDs of Stolen Kisses, but in this series of Artificial Eye Blu-ray reissues, it will be found on the disc of the next Doinel film, Bed and Board (Domicile conjugal).)
Truffaut made a few stipulations to his co-writers Claude de Givray and Bernard Revon. Firstly, the film would be called Baisers volés (Stolen Kisses). Secondly it would begin with Antoine being discharged from the army. Also it would include a scene where a beautiful woman (Delphine Seyrig, playing the wife of Antoine's boss) asks Antoine if he likes music, and he, flustered by his attraction to her, says “Yes, sir”. In general, Truffaut concentrated on the love story between Antoine and Christine (Claude Jade) while his co-writers dealt with the situations Antoine found himself in – as a hotel clerk, a private detective, a shoe salesman and a TV repair man.
Stolen Kisses was made in the middle of turmoil: 1968 was the year when Paris’s students went onto the streets. At the time, Truffaut was defending Henri Langlois from his sacking from the Cinematheque Française, which had happened four days after the start of production. (The film is dedicated to Langlois.) But Stolen Kisses is lighter than air: not for nothing was Truffaut a fan of Ernst Lubitsch. The episodic storyline is more tightly knit together that at first appears and Truffaut’s camerawork is fluidity itself. Stolen Kisses was the first of the Doinel films to be shot in colour, and Denys Clerval’s camerawork has a naturalness that Truffaut would later refine in his many collaborations with Nestor Almendros – which would include Bed and Board and the final Doinel film, Love on the Run (L’amour en fuite. Marie-France Pisier makes a brief, uncredited appearance as Colette, whom Antoine meets by chance in the street.
Stolen Kisses remains one of Truffaut’s most engaging films, seemingly quite lightweight but full of the kind of craft that conceals itself.
Stolen Kisses is released by Artificial Eye in both Blu-ray and DVD – the former is what was provided for review. Along with the other Doinel films, in December 2014 it will form part of the six-disc box set François Truffaut Collection Volume 1. The film received a X certificate on its cinema release with unspecified cuts (I suspect the scene involving what the BBFC now refers to as “moderate nudity” may have been edited, but can't confirm this) but now earns a 15 uncut.
The film was shot in 35mm Eastmancolour, and the Blu-ray transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.66:1. Truffaut makes use of some bold colour choices, and the picture has that characteristic look of late 60s Eastmancolour, somewhat heightened by today's standards, with skin tones tending towards orange. Grain is present, but is natural and filmlike
The soundtrack is mono, as the film has always been. It's clear and well-balanced. As with other Blu-rays in this series of reissue, English subtitles are optional, but only available for the soundtrack you're listening to: the feature, or the commentary (which has to be chosen via the menu). You can't switch between soundtracks via the remote, and other combinations – feature sound with commentary subtitles, or vice versa – are not possible.
Serge Toubiana gives a short introduction to the film (3:22), which gives the background to Truffaut's making of the film and its context in the events of 1968, although it is deliberately non-political. Toubiana also hosts the commentary track, which also features co-writer Claude de Givray and Claude Jade (respectively male and female, in case you were wondering). The commentary is consistently interesting, with de Givray, of the especially giving a lot of insight into the scripting process and Truffaut’s working methods.
Also on the disc is a short film clip, running exactly a minute in black and white, which Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard made in support of Henri Langlois and the Cinémathèque Française. The remaining extra is the theatrical trailer (3:51).