Tag Archives: Louis Malle

217. ZAZIE DANS LE METRO (1960)

“The fact that the film is a failure means nothing. Didn’t God create a failure, too?”–Jonas Mekas on Zazie dans le Metro

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Catherine Demongeot, , Vittorio Caprioli, Carla Marlier, Annie Fratellini, Yvonne Clech, Antoine Roblot, Jacques Dufilho, Hubert Deschamps

PLOT: When 10-year-old Zazie’s mother leaves her in the care of her exotic dancer uncle for the weekend , the only thing the sassy little girl wants to see is the Metro, but it’s closed due to a strike.  So she sneaks out of her uncle’s apartment and encounters a dirty old man, who is also a policeman, among her many adventures. Her weekend ends when the many friends and adversaries she’s accumulated—including a cobbler, an amorous widow, and a polar bear—find themselves involved in a drunken food fight while the worn-out tyke nods off into dreamland.

Still from Zazie dans le Metro (1970)

BACKGROUND:

  • Zazie dans le Metro is based on the hit 1959 comic novel of the same title by Raymond Queneau (a repentant former member of the Surrealist circle). The book relied heavily on wordplay and was widely thought to be unadaptable to film.
  • Although the film generated a small cult in France, Zazie was Louis Malle’s first flop after beginning his career with two hits (Elevator to the Gallows and The Lovers).
  • Some parents were angry at Malle’s film, believing that the sexuality made it inappropriate for children. Zazie originally received an “X” rating (16 and over) from the British Board of Film Classification.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Surely, it must be Zazie’s impish, gap-toothed smile, which she breaks into whenever she imagines growing up to be a schoolteacher who torments her students by making them eat chalk.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Eiffel Tower polar bear; wet dog in a parrot cage; high-heeled six shoe-ter

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As Zazie’s transvestite uncle says, “Paris is a dream, Zazie is a reverie, and all this is a reverie within a dream!” If a mad scientist found a way to cross-breed and , Zazie dans le Metro is the movie the mutant hybrid would direct.


The Criterion Collection’s “3 Reasons” video for Zazie dans le Metro

COMMENTS: There’s nothing in Louis Malle’s oeuvre that’s remotely like Zazie dans le Metro. There’s nothing else in the rest of the Continue reading 217. ZAZIE DANS LE METRO (1960)

209. BLACK MOON (1975)

“I see it as a strange voyage to the limits of the medium, or maybe my own limits.”–Louis Malle on Black Moon

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Cathryn Harrison, Therese Giehse, , Alexandra Stewart

PLOT: A young woman is driving a car during a shooting war between the sexes. Escaping from a checkpoint where male soldiers are executing females, she finds refuge at an old farmhouse inhabited by a batty old woman, a mute brother and sister, a band of nude animal-herding children, and a unicorn. Initially rejected by the chateau’s residents, she gradually finds herself becoming part of this strange alternate society.

Still from Black Moon (1975)
BACKGROUND:

  • Although Louis Malle had dabbled in light surrealism before with the whimsical Zazie dans le Metro (1960), there was nothing in the respected director’s then-recent oeuvre (mostly documentaries and historical pieces like 1974’s Vichy drama Lacombe, Lucien) to prepare his audience for the bizarreness of Black Moon. Sven Nykvist won a Caesar for his cinematography, but the film was mainly a commercial and critical failure, and quickly lapsed from circulation.
  • Black Moon was a transitional work in Malle’s move from France to the USA. He shot the film in France, at his own estate near Cahors, but in the English language, with a British, American and Canadian actor in the cast. After this movie, the director went to America where he scored a series of critical successes with Pretty Baby, Atlantic City and My Dinner with Andre.
  • Joyce Buñuel, Malle’s co-writer, was ‘s daughter-in-law.
  • Therese Giehse, who plays the bedridden woman, died before the movie was released, and Black Moon is dedicated to her. Malle credited her with partly inspiring the idea for Black Moon by suggesting he make a movie without dialogue (although the eventual script did have dialogue, it is sparse and often nonsensical).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Appropriately for a dream-movie, the indelible image is an imaginary one; it’s the transgressive event you see transpiring in your mind’s eye the minute after the film officially ends on a provocative freeze-frame.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Gender genocide; portly unicorn; resurrection by breast milk.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Black Moon concerns a young girl’s flight from an absurd world—where camo-clad men line up female prisoners of war and execute them, while the gas mask-wearing ladies returning the favor to their male captives—into a totally insane one. The movie is an unexpected assay of the irrational from nouvelle vague auteur Louis Malle, and although it’s congenitally uneven, it makes you wonder how wonderful it would have been if every master director had indulged himself by unleashing one unabashedly surreal film on the world.


Original trailer for Black Moon

COMMENTS: A frayed fairy tale set in no time or place in particular, Continue reading 209. BLACK MOON (1975)

CAPSULE: MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Andre Gregory

PLOT: Struggling playwright Wallace Shawn has dinner with his old friend, theater director Andre Gregory, who describes the mystical experiences he’s had visiting experimental theater workshops and communes around the world.

Still from My Dinner with Andre (1981)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough. The concept of a movie that is almost entirely a single dinner conversation is successfully experimental, and some of Gregory’s theories approach the bizarre, but Louis Malle has a couple of better candidates for the List of the weirdest movies of all time out there.

COMMENTS: Based on the description—there’s no plot per se, just two intellectuals sitting down for dinner at a swank restaurant having a conversation–you probably have no interest in seeing My Dinner with Andre, no matter how many times cinephiles tell you it’s a classic. I admit, the synopsis held no great attraction for me; I like Wallace Shawn and Louis Malle, but I never would have sought this movie out on my own, and I approached the prospect of viewing it more with trepidation than anticipation. Frankly, I was hoping it would not be as boring as it sounds—I mean, I like a good chat about life when I’m a participant, but I don’t see talking as a spectator sport. I needn’t have worried; although My Dinner with Andre assumes that you are reasonably intelligent and have a basic liberal education, it’s more accessible than it sounds. And, if you engage with it, it’s also more dramatic than it sounds.

The movie stars playwright/actor Wallace Shawn as a struggling playwright/actor, and avant-garde theater director Andre Gregory as an avant-garde theater director. The conversation is scripted, but it is based on actual discussions between the two men, who play exaggerated, fictionalized versions of themselves. The story begins with a dissatisfied Shawn complaining about his life: his career as a playwright isn’t putting food on the table and all he ever thinks about are his money problems. He is going to dinner with Andre, the theater director who produced his first play but who had recently dropped out of the New York theater scene to travel around the world, returning with strange tales of his adventures. Wally has heard Andre has been acting erratic and is nervous to meet him again. The first part of the dinner is almost a monologue by Gregory, who details his adventures in an experimental theater group in Poland where he directed a group of women who did not speak English; tells tales about his time in the Sahara with a Japanese monk who could balance on his fingertips; and relates a story about a ceremony where he was ritually killed and resurrected. Andre explains that he has been searching for experiences that allow him to be truly human, because he believes that modern man is fatally disconnected from reality. He also explains that, during this period in his life, he would spontaneously hallucinate, seeing birds flying out of his mouth when he looked in the rear-view mirror and a blue minotaur with flowers growing out of its body at midnight Mass. Although Andre is charasmatic, enthusiastic and lucid, these confessions cast him in a strange light. Is he really a mystic? Or does he have a touch of madness? Or is he just a man with an amazing imagination?

Wally listens with increasing interest as Andre relates his exploits, until, in the second half of the conversation, he starts to raise objections and fire back at Andre, whose vision of life he finds intoxicating but impractical. Wally says Andre’s lifestyle is too elitist: not everyone can have these experiences, and there is meaning to be found in reading good books and enjoying a cup of coffee. Neither Wally nor Andre gets the upper hand. Ultimately, Andre doesn’t convince Wally that it’s necessary to take extreme measures to find meaning in life. Yet, Wally still has a sense of epiphany. As he’s leaving dinner, he thinks with wonder of ordinary experiences he’s had: buying a suit, eating an ice cream… Wally comes away from dinner invigorated, not because Andre convinces him to change his life and start “really living,” but because he’s refreshed himself by an encounter with another mind, with another way of thinking about life. The reason My Dinner with Andre works is not because we take sides with either Wally or Andre, but because it reminds us of discussions we’ve had with our own dear friends, where we lose track of time and talk deep into the night. It recalls those treasured times we shared our deepest thoughts, and someone else thought enough of them to challenge us. It’s the conversation that matters, not the words spoken.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the few entrancingly esoteric, radically raw dialectics ever filmed.”–Joseph Jon Lanthier, Slant (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by nicolas, who simply called it “an amazing film.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: ZAZIE DANS LE METRO (1960)

Zazie dans le Metro has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Films ever made. Comments are closed on this post. Please visit the official Zazie dans le Metro Certified Weird entry.

DIRECTED BY: Louis Malle

FEATURING: Catherine Demongeot, , Vittorio Caprioli, Carla Marlier, Annie Fratellini, Yvonne Clech, Antoine Roblot, Jacques Dufilho, Hubert Deschamps

PLOT: Young Zazie goes to Paris and stays with her exotic dancer uncle; the only thing she wants to see is the Metro, but the workers are on strike, so she explores the city instead.

Still from Zazie dans le Metro (1970)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It might make the List thanks to its insane, anarchic soul. A minor character casually kills a waiter by firing a woman’s high-heeled shoe at him, and a parrot transforms into a dog when it’s sprayed with seltzer water; something of this sort happens in just about every detail-packed frame of the film.  Zazie’s transvestite uncle proclaims the film’s manifesto: “All Paris is a dream, Zazie is a reverie, and all this is a reverie within a dream…”

COMMENTS: Raymond Queneau’s 1959 comic novel “Zazie dans le Metro” was a surprise sensation in France; with its wordplay, neologisms and nonsense passages, it earned the author comparisons to a French James Joyce.  When Louis Malle decided to adapt it, he wanted to fracture the language of film in the same way that Queneau twisted words.  Malle used a constant barrage of editing and camera tricks as his main strategy for achieving this goal: speeding up and slowing down the film (sometimes within the same shot), having people unexpectedly pop into and out of the frame, and using rear projection effects and tricks of perspective.  There’s a shot where Zazie’s uncle talks to her as she sits on his right, and then the camera seamlessly swings around to show her now seated on his left; in another bit, one speaker in a conversation inexplicably appears in blackface in a reaction shot lasting under a second.  These editing pranks fit perfectly with the movie’s absurd scenarios: this is a film where the protagonists climb the Eiffel Tower and find a sea captain and a shivering polar bear at the top.  As she wanders about Paris, Zazie encounters a strange cast of characters, starting with her uncle (an artiste who dances in drag) and his wife Albertine (who has a mysterious power to hypnotize men with her beauty), and eventually including a dirty old man, an amorous widow with white and lavender hair, a parrot (who complains about the other characters’ yakking) and the aforementioned polar bear, among other eccentric denizens of Paris (the city is virtually a character itself).  Zazie almost has the form of a satire Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ZAZIE DANS LE METRO (1960)

LIST CANDIDATE: BLACK MOON (1975)

Black Moon has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Comments on this post are closed; please visit Black Moon‘s official Certified Weird entry.

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Louis Malle

FEATURING: Cathryn Harrison, Therese Giehse, Alexandra Stewart,

PLOT: A 15-year old girl flees a shooting war between the sexes and ends up at a farm estate inhabited by a bedridden old woman, a brother and sister both (like her) named “Lily,” a gang of naked children who herd pigs and sheep, and a unicorn.

Still from Black Moon (1975)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:   If we were making a list composed only of European-style arthouse surrealism, Black Moon would easily make the List.  Here at 366, Black Moon has to fight for its space not only with other Buñuel-based concoctions, but also with the mutant species of crazed B-movies, the maddest of midnight movies, and intentional and unintentional oddities of every stripe; the competition makes this (admittedly very weird) experimental art movie a more marginal choice.

COMMENTS:  Mercurial auteur Louis Malle (Au Revoir les Enfants) had dabbled in light absurdity with 1960’s Zazie dans le Metro, but audiences weren’t prepared for the sudden onslaught of full-on surrealism he unleashed in 1975 with Black Moon.  The movie concerns a young girl’s flight from an absurd world—where camo-clad men line up female prisoners of war and execute them, with gas mask-wearing ladies returning the favor to their male captives—into a totally irrational one.  With Malle behind the camera, we know that this will be a deliberate, quiet, beautifully-shot film.  Indeed, there are lots of long atmospheric shots and no dialogue at all for the first fifteen minutes, until Lily, the fleeing girl, finally comes upon the villa hidden deep in the woods and meets its insane inhabitants.  Her adventures are loosely inspired by that old weird warhorse, “Alice in Wonderland.”  There’s a pig /baby that may be an explicit reference to “Pig and Pepper,” and the characters Lily meets have the casually insulting demeanors of the denizens of Wonderland: the bedridden old lady says she looks “stupid… and she has no bosom, no bosom at all!’  In a Caroll-esque exchange, the unicorn accuses her of being “mean” for trampling some daisies (who, disturbingly, scream), while the myth is munching down on the selfsame flowers.  But don’t let the Alice references confuse you into supposing Malle’s film is a light absurdist comedy; although Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: BLACK MOON (1975)