A 1947 comedy of lower-middle-class manners, Jacques Becker’s Antoine and Antoinette bubbles with an optimistic portrait of a happily married young couple, and a lively gallery of supporting characters worthy of a Preston Sturges farce. As the titular publishing-plant worker (Roger Pigaut) and his department store-clerk spouse (Claire Mafféi) negotiate the hand-to-mouth stresses of postwar Paris, mostly with good cheer, Becker and his vivacious cast of actors fill the milieu with types etched as artful miniatures: the lascivious grocer (Noël Roquevert) who plies Antoinette with free sardines, the callow boxer next door who’s more discreet about his flirting, the metro ticket seller who gabs while rush-hour commuters fume in line. Along with the colorful touches of Antoine clambering onto the roof of their garret to adjust the radio antenna, Antoinette’s lending library culled from her husband’s spoiled printings of pulp novels, and their weekend idylls in the soccer grandstand and a rowboat on a park lake, this human hubbub makes Pigaut and Mafféi’s attractive leads equally partners in love and members of a true community, aided immeasurably by Becker’s evocative location shooting and his zippy editing rhythms.
It’s almost a pity when the film’s second half inevitably becomes plot-driven, as the twin kernels of Antoine’s simmering jealousy over the grocer’s attentions and, more centrally, Antoinette’s winning lottery number grow into twin engines of the couple’s crisis. (Love may be enough for their happiness, but the prospect of 800,000 francs prompts the self-possessed wife to scribble their wish list on the bedroom mirror with lipstick, and her husband to literally jump on her as she laughs orgasmically.) Becker doesn’t romanticize their working-class digs as a charming hovel (he can’t, as, even lacking a washbasin, it’s a typically too-roomy studio set), but makes it clear they’re scrimping to save the camembert for tomorrow’s lunch and swallowing nearly indigestible rationed meat. “Are you watching my weight?” sputters Antoine over breakfast; Antoinette counters, “Not me, the butcher.”
While a happy end to Antoine and Antoinette is never in doubt (genre considerations aside, look sharp and you’ll know where that lost lottery ticket went), Becker and his co-writers give the bulk of the climactic action to Pigaut’s aspiring motorcyclist Antoine, but reveal his insecurities when the seeming loss of a life-changing windfall turn him nearly catatonic. His ruinous discovery is played out expertly to the minimalist plinking of an office piano being tuned, with Jean Renoir regular Gaston Modot bearing resigned witness as a lottery official. Mafféi’s practical-minded beauty, besides shrugging off everyday passes from men, has the strength to tell her floorwalker boss to take her job and shove it. Becker’s denouement features a semi-realistic fistfight that seems like a taste of his later crime dramas, but despite the cathartic male violence, Antoinette emerges as the steadying partner in this pair, even if the sunny fadeout places her in a sidecar.