Thursday, June 11, 2009

Movie Moments, 15: Who am I?

From François Truffaut's Stolen Kisses (Baisers Volés, 1968). Hapless Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) says the names of his two tangled loves over and over, and then--the best--his own.

This scene is so good, it's like existential slapstick. I used to mutter to myself sometimes, "An-TOINE doinel..."
It perfectly catches the befuddlement of existence, especially when we're young. We ask, "Who am I?" the philosophical question of the ages, but further, "Who are these other people? ...and what am I DOING here?!?"
These questions together are both poignant and hilarious, and Léaud gets them just right.

I would contrast this with the scene in Moonstruck (1987) when the mother of the family, Rose (fifty-six-year-old Olympia Dukakis), turns down a proposition from a philandering professor (John Mahoney). He joins her at dinner after his latest young girlfriend walks out on him. Rose tells him, "What you don't know about women is a lot."

When he walks her home and asks to come in, she turns him down, and he guesses it's because there's someone home.
No, she says, it's because "I know who I am."

When I first saw that movie, I was in my mid-twenties, not much older than Antoine, and I didn't get her reasoning at all--her line felt like a nonsequitur. Now I get it. Rose has stood in front of her mirror often enough to know who she is, who this guy is, and what it would look like if they stole kisses together. Like a martial artist, she simply steps out of the way of this train-wreck of a man.

I don't know if Antoine ever figures this out. I think he might forever remain like Mahoney's professor, "a boy who likes to be bad." Unfortunately, we have met the type before. Not so charming at forty, fifty, sixty... But so beautiful, so recognizably us, caught on film at twenty.


Rudyinparis said...

This is a great post. "Existential slapstick" indeed. Who knew there was such a thing? I think what I love here is your theme that what is charming--even necessary--at 20 is self-indulgent and weak in some way at, say, 40, or 50, or 60. Or, ahem, 37. The Olympia Dukakis character has faced herself in the mirror, seen what is there, and moved on. I think in our culture, with our cult of youth, we think it is a negative to see what is there and move on--that somehow by continuing to stare in the mirror, we hang on to our youth. Instead, we just become an old person that refused to grow up. It is a good thing, as you say, to know how to step out of the way of a train wreck. But perhaps you need to get hit by a few trains before you learn how to do this. Great post, Fresca, love it!

fresca said...

"we think... by continuing to stare in the mirror, we hang on to our youth."
Wow, good line Rudy!
That's a good definition of narcissism--continuing to stare into the mirror--and we Americans seem to like to cultivate that instead of self-awareness of the "see it and move on" variety. So, I think Rose is an unusual character in American movies--a wise and attractive older woman.

Ha! And yes, maybe we need to get hit by a few trains before we figure out we just need to step off the tracks---godknows that was true for me.
Humor is helpful too.
Thanks for your good comments.

momo said...

Brilliant juxtaposition. I remembered an-TOINE doinel vividly, but had forgotten the Moonstruck moment. There are so few movie moments of women making mature decisions!

fresca said...

Hi, Momo: That's cool you remember it too!
I figured since I found the clip on youTUbe that it must be memorable to many people--it does stick in the mind and there's nothing else quite like it...

Moonstruck is such a bad movie in many ways, but there's so much good in it, it's one of my favorites, and Dukakis is exceptional.