Fourth in the series of five films François Truffaut made about his fictional alter-ego Antoine Doinel, Domicile Conjugal (Bed and Board) finds Antoine (Jean-Pierre Leaud) now twenty-six and happily married to Christine (Claude Jade). While his wife earns a living teaching children to play the violin, Antoine works for a florist, dyeing flowers in pursuit of achieving the 'perfect red.' Yet forever restless, Antoine soon loses interest. He decides to go for a job interview with an American construction company. To his own surprise he lands the job of operating radio-controlled boats in a scale model of a harbour. Meanwhile, Christine is pregnant and in spite of initial anxieties Antoine is delighted to become a father. Once again however, that familiar reckless streak kicks in again as he embarks on an affair with an enigmatic Japanese girl named Kyoko (Hiroko Berghauer).
Truffaut's previous Antoine Doinel film, Stolen Kisses (1968), had been an international hit and it was at the premiere that his mentor Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinematheque Francais, planted the seed for the sequel by insisting people would want to see Antoine and Christine as a married couple. Yet some critics saw Bed and Board as proof Truffaut had gone soft on the bourgeoisie. Only two years after playing a prominent role in the student riots that rocked Paris, here he was ditching politics for an "inconsequential" comedic study of domestic strife. Certainly, we are a long way away from the impassioned social realism of The 400 Blows (1959). Nevertheless Truffaut infuses Antoine's tragicomic (or is it comi-tragic?) story with his own anxieties about marriage and fatherhood, having notched up one divorce, some children and a string of tumultuous love affairs.
No matter how domesticated Antoine appears to be at the start of the film, he remains something of an outsider. Suspicious of society even as he longs to be a part of it. In this instance society is embodied by Christine played with captivating charm by Claude Jade who rarely gets the credit she is due as half of one of French cinema's great double acts with the beguiling, ever-hapless Jean-Pierre Leaud. Note Truffaut's fixation with her lovely legs (indeed an obsession with shapely stems reoccurs throughout his filmography) which accounts for more than mere erotic allure. Those legs are always on the move with Antoine compelled to follow even though he is never entirely happy with the domestic path down which they lead. The arc of Bed and Board charts the progression of Antoine and Christine's relationship from cute newlywed antics towards a more mature form of love sprung from confronting each other's failings, negotiating the emotional land-mines of childbirth and infidelity along the way.
In spite of the oddly ominous score from Antoine Duhamel that sounds like something Bernard Herrmann would have concocted for Truffaut's idol Alfred Hitchcock, Bed and Board is foremost a comedy and includes some of the funniest gags the auteur ever conceived. The job interview where Antoine muddles through his broken English, the sight gag that clues him about his impending fatherhood, the friend that keeps borrowing money and his hopeless attempts to rid himself of an incriminating bunch of flowers are staged with nods to Truffaut's comic heroes: Leo McCary, Ernst Lubitsch and Jacques Tati. Additionally the eccentric characters that populate courtyard where Antoine vainly tries to concoct the perfect red draw upon Jean Renoir's 1936 classic Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, including the neighbours suspicions surrounding a mysterious man dubbed 'the Strangler.' Yet unlike Quentin Tarantino, Truffaut is never so preoccupied with cinematic references that he disconnects from the real world. Truffaut and his co-screenwriters Claude de Givray and Bernard Revon employed a unique creative method in assembling the plot from interviews conducted with real people. Participants were quizzed as to how they might respond to events depicted in the plot thus enabling the writers to avoid the pitfalls of contrivance and keep things fresh and real. Certainly there is a ring of authenticity about the gradual breakdown in Antoine's relationship with Christine which happens without recourse to Hollywood melodrama. Even after exposing cracks in their perfect relationship there remains a tangible warmth and intimacy between the pair culminating in a scene both poignant and funny wherein Antoine keeps breaking off from his date with Kyoko to phone Christine for advice. If there is a flaw it is that Truffaut skirts caricature through depicting Kyoko as this inscrutable Oriental spider-woman. We never really get to know what makes her tick. If the film seems inconsequential judged beside the high points in Truffaut's output it is worth noting few other auteurs produced a minor work so rich in insight, ingenuity and charm.