This book introduces readers to the cinema of Louis Malle. Malle needs little further preliminary discussion here. His is a body of work that most film critics around the world recognise as being one of the most productive in post-war international cinema, including as it does triumphs such as Ascenseur pour l'échafaud; Le Feu follet; Lacombe Lucien; Atlantic City USA, and Au revoir les enfants . Malle's work attracted intense public controversy, with a new Malle film being just as likely to find itself debated on the front page of Le Monde or Libération as reviewed in the film section of those newspapers. Malle's four major films of the 1970s represent a fusion of the youthful bravado and confidence of the 1950s combined with the new political questioning adopted in the late 1960s. Le Souffle au cœur, Lacombe Lucien, Black Moon, and Pretty Baby were made in relatively quick succession and each engaged in controversial and divisive themes. The book analyses Malle's political journey from the cultural right-wing to the libertarian left, to explain how Le Souffle au cœur marked a radical break with the 1950s by speaking of that era through a comic mode. It explores how Lacombe Lucien works as a film, to discuss its core rhetorical devices and what they mean today. The book also demonstrates that Malle is too complex to be explained by one theory or interpretation, however tempting its conclusions.
This chapter presents some key concepts discussed in the book. Louis Malle's films are a body of work that most film critics around the world recognise as being one of the most productive in post-war international cinema, including as it does triumphs such as Ascenseur pour l'échafaud; Le Feu follet; Lacombe Lucien; Atlantic City USA; and Au revoir les enfants. Malle's work attracted intense public controversy. Viewed in historical retrospect, Malle is a director who was consistently in the eye of the storm. This chapter highlights four turbulent periods that mark out the career: the New Wave; May '68; the 1970s; and finally Malle's experience of filmmaking in the USA and his return to work on selected projects in France (1978-95). The historical and cultural analysis positions Malle in relation to the dominant social and cultural forces of his times in the two countries in which he worked.
Scholars have underlined the problematic nature of identifying a single aesthetic strand in Louis Malle's cinema. There is a strong case to be made that shows that Malle's films conform to a consistent aesthetic pattern that can be traced across the dramatic oeuvre. This chapter explores the key aesthetic components that make up Malle's more general filmic grammar and then questions why despite these consistencies he remains a director who for many film scholars continues to be associated with eclecticism. It highlights other traditions quite distinct from classical realism, that also feature in Malle's work. Understanding the unlikely partnership of surrealism and documentary film-making in Mallean aesthetics is important to any introduction to the director. The dominant mood is classical realism and the most common additional contributory currents to that aesthetic choice are derived from the surrealism and the bold realism of cinéma direct.
As Louis Malle was to himself admit, he once held complex cultural affinities with the radical right-wing, although these were in themselves subtle and ambiguous connections. This chapter discusses Ascenseur pour l'echafaud, Les Amants, and Le Feu follet in the light of this admission. It also offers an opportunity to analyse Malle's political journey from the cultural right-wing to the libertarian left, to explain how Le Souffle au coeur marked a radical break with the 1950s by speaking of that era through a comic mode. A brief résumé of the basic plots of Les Amants, Vie privée, or Le Feu follet confirm Malle's propensity for active pessimism. The conservative portrayal of women in his cinema remained relatively stable throughout the oeuvre. Malle's films of the 1950s converged with the world of the extreme right-wing literary tradition, often loosely defined as 'the Hussard' movement.
Lacombe Lucien has sharply divided audiences in their views of Louis Malle. The film had to be unmasked for what it was: a bourgeois manipulation of the historical record that normalised the banality of fascism and concealed the heroism and complexity of the class struggle. However, for fellow director Joseph Losey, Malle's work was a masterpiece of the cinematic arts. This chapter analyses how Lacombe Lucien works as a film, and discusses its core rhetorical devices and what they mean today. Important comparisons are made with the equivalently ambiguous rhetorical strategies deployed by Malle in Pretty Baby. The aesthetic patterns in Lacombe Lucien fall squarely into the wider mode rétro fashion in literature, art and cinema that developed in western Europe during the late 1960s. The chapter discusses Malle's second American film, Atlantic City USA, which is a film that subtly re-enforces Malle's status as a memorial activist.
This chapter focuses on Louis Malle's Au revoir les enfants. Psychoanalytic interpretation of Au revoir les enfants reveals many important insights, not least those suggested by Lynn Higgins in her discussions of Mallean cinema and the primal scene. However, the chapter also demonstrates that Malle is too complex to be explained by one theory or interpretation, however tempting its conclusions. Other forms of psychoanalytic reading, not so directly related to trauma or the idea of the primal scene, can be applied. Malle's work such as Zazie dans le métro and Le Voleur display an almost obsessive preoccupation with teenagers, their youth and corruption and reverberate with disturbed adolescents, social worlds at their breaking points and so many failed escapes. The chapter concludes by returning to a more politically informed consideration of Au revoir les enfants.
This chapter presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the book. In dissecting a lifetime of ambiguity, the book has shown that there are few critical certainties when it comes to Louis Malle. This is the most fascinating quality of Mallean cinema. Malle's childhood experience of January 1944, the founding trauma, its working-through in the eventual completion of Au revoir les enfants, provides one coherent and important way to debate the director and his work. There is Malle the 1950s playboy celebrity, the soixante-huitard activist, the Frenchman at home in the USA, the professional cinéaste, producer, and documentarist. Classical realism, surrealism and cinéma direct continue to be a powerful combination that defies simplistic aesthetic classification. In filming Au revoir les enfants he systematically asserted a defence of artistic liberty against unthinking authoritarianism. Mallean film was also a journey of repeated reinvention.