Thursday, April 16, 2015

Murmur of the Heart

Written and directed by Louis Malle, Le souffle au coeur (Murmur of the Heart) is the story of a boy coming of age in post-World War II France as he discovers the world of sex and the social life of his own mother. The film isn’t just an exploration into a boy’s awareness of sex as well as being in a bourgeois world that his mother is a part of. Starring Benoit Ferreux, Lea Massari, Daniel Gelin, Ave Ninchi, Gila von Weitershausen, and Michael Lonsdale. Le souffle au coeur is a witty yet intoxicating film from Louis Malle.

Set in 1954 France during the Indochina War, the film revolves around a young boy coming of age as he opposes the war yet becomes concerned with his interest in sex as well as his own relationship with his mother. All of which plays into the life of a 14-year old boy who becomes fascinated by the changes in his life as his older brothers are having parties with beautiful women while he starts to outgrow boyish things. Still, Laurent Chevalier (Benoit Ferreux) is still at a stage in his life where he is becoming an adult but is still a child at heart as he also copes with being unloved by his gynecologist father but adored by his mother Clara (Lea Massari). It is largely told from Laurent’s perspective as he deals with growing pains and the demands he has as a teenager where he is taught at a Catholic school while getting his first taste with girls and sex.

Louis Malle’s screenplay has a very unique structure where its first half is set in a small French town where Laurent is just a boy coming to terms with a world that is changing as he loves jazz music and all sorts of mischief with his older brothers. On a day he walks home from school with a friend, he would see his mother get into a car with another man as it would trigger a series of events where his brothers would take him to a brothel where he would lose his virginity. Yet, the encounter would only have him confused and ill with a heart murmur as the film’s second half is set in a hotel where Laurent is cared for as he’s accompanied by his mother. It’s in this sanatorium/hotel where Laurent not only increases his interest towards other girls but also learn more about the life of his mother as it adds to his growing awareness that everything in his family life isn’t exactly what it seems. Especially as the retreat has Laurent become more attached towards is mother.

Malle’s direction is very engaging for the way he portrays early 1950s France where television had just emerged in the country while there’s growing debate about the war in Indochina. It’s a film where Malle decides to create something that is intimate as some of it is based on his own upbringing where Malle would shoot the film in the small town of Dijon to play into an upper-middle class world. Using lots of medium shots and close-ups, Malle aims for something that is loose in terms of some of the film’s humor while going for something much more intimate in his framing as it relates to the drama and Laurent’s relationship with his mother. Things do get more intense though on a restrained level once the film is set in this retreat where Laurent not only becomes more interested in girls but also his own mother. Malle’s usage of hand-held cameras become more evident as it plays into some of the craziness that occurs in this retreat but also the tension that looms towards Laurent’s feelings for his mother. Overall, Malle creates a very engaging yet provocative film about a boy coming of age sexually in 1950s France.

Cinematographer Richard Aronovich does brilliant work with the film‘s lush and colorful cinematography to capture some of the low-key yet grimy look of the locations in Dijon along with the more evocative look at the retreat with its usage of natural lights. Editor Suzanne Baron does nice work with the editing as it‘s very stylish with its usage of jump-cuts to play into some of the humor and chaos that occurs in the film. Production designer Jean-Jacques Caziot does superb work with the look of the Chevalier family home as well as the hotel Laurent and his mother stay at.

The sound work of Jean-Claude Laureux does terrific work with the sound as it is raucous for some of the livelier moments with the crowd with sparse moments in the intimate scenes between Laurent and his mother. The film’s music consists of pieces by Sidney Bechet, Gaston Freche, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Henri Renaud as it’s a fantastic soundtrack that plays into Laurent’s own love for jazz and how it means to him in a complicated world.

The film’s amazing cast includes some notable small performances from Jacqueline Chauvaud and Corrine Kersten as a couple of young women Laurent meet at the retreat, Francois Werner as the snobbish rich kid Hubert that flirts with Laurent’s mother at the retreat, Henri Poirier and Micheline Bona in their respective roles as Uncle Leonce and Aunt Claudine, Gila von Weitershausen as the prostitute Laurent would lose his virginity to, and Ave Ninchi as the family maid Augusta who tries to keep things under control in the chaotic home of the Chevalier family. Marc Winocourt and Fabien Ferreux are terrific in their respective roles as Laurent’s older brothers Marc and Thomas who often get him into mischief as well as try to get him laid.

Michael Lonsdale is superb as Father Henri who tries to understand what Laurent is going through while being his teacher and ponder about Laurent’s sudden interest in things that sort of attack the Catholic church. Daniel Gelin is excellent as Laurent’s father Charles as this renowned gynecologist who is very distant with Laurent as he is always busy and wonders why he is so odd. Lea Massari is brilliant as Laurent’s mother Clara as this Italian woman who is so full of life and love as she also leads a secret life that eventually becomes troubling as she copes with her own faults as a wife and mother. Finally, there’s Benoit Ferreux in a marvelous performance as Laurent Chevalier as this young man coming of age in the mid-1950s as he learns about sex and all sorts of things while getting an understanding of the world from books and jazz music as he also deals with his own feelings towards his mother.

Le souffle au coeur is a remarkable film Louis Malle. Armed with great performances and a fantastic soundtrack, it’s a film that plays into a young boy’s life as well as his understanding about the world of sex in 1950s France. In the end, Le souffle au coeur is a dazzling and delightful from Louis Malle.

Louis Malle Films: (The Silent World) - Elevator to the Gallows - The Lovers (1958 film) - Zazie Dans le Metro - (A Very Private Affair) - (Vive Le Tour) - The Fire Within - (Bons baisers de Bangkok) - (Viva Maria!) - (The Thief of Paris) - Spirits of the Dead-William Wilson - (Phantom India) - (Calcutta) - (Humain, Trop Humain) - Lacombe, Lucien - Place de la Republique - Black Moon - (Close Up (1976 short) - (Dominique Sanda ou Le reve eveille) - Pretty Baby - Atlantic City (1980 film) - (My Dinner with Andre) - Crackers - God’s Country (1985 film) - (Alamo Bay) - (And the Pursuit of Happiness) - Au Revoir Les Enfants - (May Fools) - (Damage (1992 film)) - (Vanya on 42nd Street)

© thevoid99 2015


Anonymous said...

You know how I feel about this one, since it just littered my Fisti Awards with noms/wins...I'm so glad you loved this too!

thevoid99 said...

It's been a long time since I've seen the film as it was on a few weeks ago on TCM as I needed to re-watch it. It's one of my favorite films by Louis Malle. I've got 3 more that I'm going to do in the coming days.

Unknown said...

I really need to see this. I love Au Revoir Les Enfants, but I haven't seen any of Malle's other films yet.

thevoid99 said...

@Irene McKenna-That I'm going to see in a week as I'm doing a mini-marathon of films by Malle as this film is one of his finest.