The Documentaries of Louis Malle

<i>Vive le Tour: Humain, Trop Humain; Place de la République; Phantom India; Calcutta; God’s Country; ... and the Pursuit of Happiness</i>
Vive le Tour: Humain, Trop Humain; Place de la République; Phantom India; Calcutta; God’s Country; ... and the Pursuit of Happiness

The Documentaries of Louis Malle

Criterion Eclipse Series 2, $79.95

When we last left Louis Malle ("DVD Watch: 3 Films by Louis Malle," June 9, 2006), he was hitting on the wrong side of truth: fiction. Now, as if the French needed their own available-on-DVD Eddie Murray, Malle switch-hits at the storytelling plate and again plays pepper with the human condition. Vive le Tour leads off with an engaging behind-the-scenes look at the world's most famous bicycle race, as skimpy saddlers eat some 1962 pavement and then wash it down with beers stolen from a roadside cafe. Batting second, Humain, Trop Humain (Human, Too Human) follows an assembly line at a Peugeot factory, and honestly, I've seen baseball games that were more exciting. Still, watching people snap things together excites the Matchbox kid in me. Rounding out the bottom of the first, Place de la République finds Malle walking in one of Paris' busiest places, engaging the pace and personalities of la ville in les Seventies. Batting cleanup is a masterwork on par with the Miracle Mets' World Series victory the same year, 1969's Phantom India (a 378-minute miniseries in seven episodes), an expansive Eastern road trip that aspires to the breadth and depth of the subcontinent itself. Calcutta plays like the seventh-inning stretch to Phantom, and it's hard to understand why these two films weren't conceived as one piece since they were released in the same year. God's Country – a PBS documentary filmed in 1979 and 1985 in rural Minnesota – both presages and postdates Errol Morris' 1982 classic, Vernon, Florida, and leaves you with the same idea that rural America is somewhere out in left field picking daisies, while … and the Pursuit of Happiness explores the innocence of the American dream through the rose-colored glasses of immigrants. Both of these stateside ventures recall Werner "Whitey" Herzog's 1977 Stroszek and his stuporous Americana. Bottom nine, Malle's childlike fascination with all things foreign leads him by the hand, as he faces each of these films without a pitch in mind, never balking, and vulnerably letting the situation dictate the mood: line drives in France, deep fly balls to India, and crackerjack for America. Oh, the Gaul.

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