Some thoughts about Malle’s oeuvre
Louis Malle’s work is commonly called eclectic, due to the variety of topics, covered spaces and times, for being composed by both fiction and documentary, the different characteristics in different eras and different countries of production. However, there is a curious unity spanning all his films (at least those I’ve watched!)
Black Moon and the impetuosity of the character (brief analysis)
The mentioned unity above being partially expressed by what I may call an impetuosity of the character, of wich pure example is the protagonist of Black Moon.
Black Moon was made in 1974 on Malle’s country property near the commune of Figeac, (according with wikipedia!) in southwestern France, and it is common to be related to Alice in Wonderland, by the vaguely similar structure: if in Lewis Carroll’s book the protagonist dreams, meets and has conversations with countless curious and crazy figures, in Malle’s film the protagonist – a young woman named Lily – runs, walks, looks, bumps and slips through the woods, the house, from a peculiar character to another, or from one room to another object. Hardly anyone speaks, and if yes, often in incomprehensible languages, and Lily’s relationships with these characters have no logic. Black Moon strictly follows the tone, the characteristics, the structure of an unconfortable dream when we feel that we must always do something, get away from somewhere, find something, to wake up after and such objectives look to us foolish or inexplicable. I was delighted when I finally found in Black Moon something I have looked in the movies: it is a portrait or a realistic representation of a dream, a dream one has during sleep. Black Moon, therefore, is a movie-dream.
In Malle characters there is a discernible force that always pushes them forward, on a motion without hesitation: the character moves quickly and comfortably through the scenery, so confident and quiet, without excessive concern with his physical integrity, particularly in Black Moon. An accurate security of gesture and movement by the actors and equal precision in the movement of the camera that follows them aware of their next steps. The impression is that the actors are completely at ease with the setting and the camera, and that they have had been exercising or playing sports. Without hesitation, they could lie down on the carpet of the hotel in Souffle au Coeur and rub up with warmth. This description may seem exaggerate and must be understood as describing a tendency or direction, pointing to the protagonist of Black Moon. Indeed, Lily lies down on the grass with a centipede, a praying mantis and two cockroaches, and observes them while numbed by fatigue. Laurent’s movements in Souffle au Coeur, when he gets home, picks a book, gets the cat, puts the Charlie Parker disc on the gramophone, lies down on the bed, looses the belt and opens the fly of his pants are continuous and executed with security and tranquility. This effect may well be regarded as resulting from the procedure that Malle describes as having been adopted from his documentary practice, leaving the actors free to capture the truth of their behavior:
“I think this experience of relying on my instincts was quite decisive in my work. When I went back to fiction, I’ve always been unconsciously and also very consciously, trying to reinvent those very privileged moments. I’ve always tried to rediscover the state of innocence that I found so extraordinary working in India. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way, but since then I have made a number of films with children and adolescents, and have always tried to give them the freedom of expressing themselves, trying to let them loose, rather than trying to boss them around – seizing those moments when they were free, when they were themselves – for these privileged moments will always bring to the screen something completely different. I was able to accomplish that when I did documentaries in the following years. But even in my fiction work I think I’ve been enormously influenced by what I discovered in India.” read in this article in Senses of Cinema
Gilles Deleuze says something very similar regarding Malle’s films and Black Moon especially, when he writes about what he calls the Movement of World: a character in itself does not move, but is pushed by the facts, by what happens in the world . I can not say for sure if I understand what Deleuze meant, in fact I have not read his book, but I have withdrawn from it the following passage that seems to speak of the movement of world quite clearly:
“If we likewise attempt to define this state of implied dream, we would say that the optical and sound image extends into movement of world. There is definitely return to movement (hence its insufficiency again). But it is no longer the character who reacts to the optical-sound situation, it is a movement of world which supplements the faltering movement of the character. There takes place a kind of worldizing [mondialization] or ‘societizing’ [mondianization], a depersonalizing, a pronominalizing of the lost or blocked movement. The road is not slippery without sliding on itself. The frightened child faced with danger cannot run away, but the world sets about running away for him and takes him with it, as if on a conveyor belt. Characters do not move, but, as in an animated film, the camera causes the movement of the path on which they change places, ‘motionless at a great pace’. The world takes responsibility for the movement that the subject can no longer or cannot make. This is a virtual movement, but it becomes actual at the price of an expansion of the totality of space and of a stretching of time. (…)
In most of his films Louis Malle has more or less obviously used movement of world, hence the enchantment of this work: the bolt from the blue in The Lovers is mixed up with the extensions of the park and the moon in the boat trip; bodily states themselves link up with movements of world. From Lift to the Scaffold, it was the halting of the lift which blocked the murderer’s movement, to put in its place movements of world involving the other characters. The culmination is Black Moon, where the depersonalized movements take the heroine with the unicorn from one world to another and still another: it is by running away from the initial images of violence that the heroine moves from one world to the other, in the sense that Sartre says that each dream is a world, and even each phase or image of dream. Each is marked by animals, and is peopled by inversions (sound-inversion of speech, aberrations of behaviour such as when the old woman talks to the rats and sucks the girl’s breast). In Malle, it is always a movement of world which brings the character to incest, prostitution, or disgrace, and makes him capable of a crime like the one dreamed of by the old man who tells tall stories (Atlantic City). In the whole cinema of enchantment these universalized, depersonalized and pronominalized movements, with their slow motion or rushing, with their inversions, pass just as much through nature as through artifice and the manufactured object.”
DELEUZE, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-image. Traslated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota press, 1989
(spoilers on Souffle au Coeur and Lacombe Lucien) In Souffle au Coeur, It is the circumstances (the sexual development of Laurent, the young mother, the only hotel room, the party where both get drunk before going to bed) that lead Laurent and his mother to the climax of the film, these circumstances, movements of the world, fully justify every action or movement of the character. Perhaps a most notorious case, It is the circumstances or movements of the world (war and occupation, a casual encounter or opportunity) that lead Lucien Lacombe to active collaboration with the Nazis, and without it he would literally stand still in his village, living quiet life, plucking chickens and working in the field; it is a connection by chance with the jewish tailor that makes him in love with the tailor’s daughter and to abuse of his power as a collaborationist. The road shown at high speed at the beginning of Black Moon is the slope in which the protagonist slips through the world.
Under construction. I would be delighted with comments, suggestions, disagreements!
Films I’ve seen directed or co-directed by Louis Malle, in order of preference:Read less