Watching movies at Memorial Library: ‘Bed and Board’

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Alright, I confess: I didn’t go to Memorial Library to watch François Truffaut’s third feature-length film chronicling the (mis)adventures of Antoine Doinel, Bed and Board (1970). Instead, nursing a slightly sore throat and a debilitating headache, I rented the film from Four Star and watched it from the comfort of my (sick)bed. What’s more, the copy of the film I watched wasn’t even the Criterion disc. I sincerely hope that y’all will forgive me for these regrettable circumstances; alas, I cannot forgive Truffaut for making such a thoroughly mediocre film.

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But first, the images: Truffaut’s compositions in Bed and Board are deceptively brilliant, marked by a mise-en-scène that slowly creeps up on the viewer from behind, taps them on the shoulder and then asserts its sheer pictorial allure. This phenomenon isn’t subtle per se, but the precise staging, camera placement and camera movement are just off-beat enough to prevent these technical aspects from slipping into the shadows of imperceptibility. To his credit, Truffaut’s films seldom fail to lay bare their constituent devices; if only his termite approach to form could work in concert with a termite approach to content.

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Full disclosure: I only watched the first hour or so of Bed and Board. I was tired, I had a lot of work to do, and I couldn’t shake this feeling that the film was yankin’ me around for no good reason. I’ll finish any film on principle, provided there’s something about the film worth finishing it for: I found no such substance in Bed and Board, which berated me with its cute verbal exchanges, its momentarily striking images, its dramatic moments that point nowhere while pretending to point somewhere. But most of all, I was turned off by the film’s rather orientalist depiction of a Japanese family living in Paris, portrayed so ignorantly and basely that I would hardly be surprised if the film’s final leg included a sequence set to “dun-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nah-nuh.” Also, Truffaut’s notion of the ideal aesthete (Antoine) is just as implausible, unconvincing and groan-inducing as the über-bourgeois philosophy professors and starving novelists who populate the enormous lofts of Woody Allen’s fantasy version of Manhattan.

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Listen: Life is short and extremely prickly. Quitting on a viewing of a film isn’t a sin, a misdemeanor, a felony or a high-crime. Will I someday watch the rest of Bed and Board? Very probably. After all, I often find myself thinking “y’know, I actually like Truffaut’s work more than I say that I do.” But Bed and Board struck me, on this miserable Sunday afternoon, as neither especially sticky nor slippery, just sort of… skippable. However, if you’re a die-hard fan of Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Leaud and/or Antoine Doinel, Bed and Board is available at the Memorial Library Media Center (as are all five chapters of the Doinel series).

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