Three Films by Louis Malle
As much codas to childhood as preludes to manhood, each of these films have a different cross to bear
Reviewed by Taylor Holland, Fri., June 9, 2006
3 Films by Louis Malle
Fifty years before Steve Zissou, Louis Malle quit film school and joined Jacques Cousteau aboard the Calypso for the life aquatic, netting the seminal underwater classic Le Monde du Silence (1956), which won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes that year. Malle, who with Godard and Truffaut was a progenitor of the French New Wave, later admitted he learned almost everything he knew about filmmaking from mess-yuh Jacques, but it's here, in these semiautobiographical adolescent tales, where he finds his voix de la terre. As much codas to childhood as preludes to manhood, each of these films has a different cross to bear: Murmur of the Heart (1971), a supposed indictment of Malle's bourgeoisie upbringing (though there is no official word on his personal experience with the Oedipus complex), serves as a treatise on boyhood and stands alongside his earlier Elevator to the Gallows in its tributary use of American jazz music; Lacombe Lucien (1974) finds a young redneck tangled as much in amorous obsession (with the stunning Aurore Clemént) as his own deficient certitude when he becomes a henchman for the gestapo during the occupation of France; and, Au Revoir les Enfants (1987), which marked Malle's return to filmmaking in France after a critically harsh period in Hollywood, is a dramatic retelling of his own experience at a World War II-era Catholic boarding school. Malle's considerable experience as a documentarian comes to the fore here as the weight of the circumstances easily eclipse the thinly veiled narrative structure and reek of personal experience. The supplemental disc includes a recent interview with Candace Bergen (Malle's wife of 15 years until his death in 1995), various archival audio interviews, and Charlie Chaplin's 1917 short comedy The Immigrant, which is featured in Au Revoir les Enfants. Comparable in scope and focus to Rainer Fassbinder's World War II trilogy or Blue, White, and Red by Krzysztof Kieslowski, this is cinema of the highest order.
ALSO OUT NOW
Elevator to the Gallows (Criterion, $39.95): Malle's first narrative feature is a classic crime story, which he lifted from a pulp novel in hopes of finding something mainstream enough to secure studio funding.
The Princess Bride: Buttercup Edition and The Princess Bride: Dread Pirate Edition (both MGM, $24.96): Rob Reiner's hilarious 1987 fairy tale is worth its weight in gold, and worth mentioning here: It features Wallace Shawn, who also starred as himself in Malle's woefully tedious but engaging My Dinner With Andre.