Murmur of the Heart (1971 / France)

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Murmur of the Heart (1971 / France)

Postby justindeimen » Sat Sep 16, 2006 4:34 pm

From the Louis Malle boxset recently released and my viewing of the first.

Couldn't find a review of this in the film/director index.



Director: Louis Malle

Its high comedy. Its French bourgeois lifestyle. Louis Malles delicate style of working with taboo subject matter reached a personal plateau with a dysfunctional household in Murmur of the Heart, an early reach back into his own garden of memories and familial idiosyncrasies that he has stringently plucked from over the years. He approaches it with an innocent intent, cheeky, but still innocent nonetheless. Through the nostalgic and mean-spirited jibes at the domestic help, clergy and stiff-lipped crust of high society, it commences on a journey of an adolescent male, Laurent Chevalier (Benoit Ferreux) in Dijon, France circa 1954. He longs to break free to that stage of enlightened adulthood that seems just within reach but yet so very far. But within its pith, its the very antithesis of melodrama. Taking on its inviolable subject matters horns with both hands, it wrangles it to the ground while giving us something to think about. Its definitely not about exorcising ghosts of the past but to let them regale us with stories of unforgettable youth.

After 35 years, Murmur of the Heart still rings truer and closer to home than most contemporary comedies (and even dramas) revolving around the coming of age and sexual awakening in a young teen. Its also more daring and liberal in its construction of key family members being part of that very natural formation of sexual DNA and identity. They discuss philosophy. They discuss suicide. They discuss The Story of O. Laurent and his 2 older brothers consort in disrespectfully petty behaviour contrary to what their upbringing holds sacred. Laurents a top student, an intellectual that sees the world around him as a playground. Its a smalltime superiority complex as he defines his sensitive sensibilities with discernment beyond his years and a haughty disregard for divergent thoughts with a self-important air.

Revolving primarily about Laurent and his mother, Clara (L avventuras Lea Massari), its a refreshing look at a parental relationship based around adoration and fondness (coming under constant mocking by his brothers) than the contemporaneous and contemptuous notion of disdain and rebelliousness surrounding the authority figures and generational gaps. It underlines the idiom of a mother being her sons first love. In its essence, it encapsulates many complicated mother-child relationships including the emotional Oedipal issues that do crop up. And through that, a lovely parallelism is wrought with its interpretation of a woman who wants to be a girl and a boy who wants to be a man.

Conforming to an almost sitcom style, its self-dependent, autonomous scenes and situations just about start to border on farcical proportions. Its characters place sex and carnality high up on a pedestal, while Malle condescendingly films it as something so pedestrian and run-of-the-mill, not worth the hype and excitement over it anyway. He makes the patient, inevitable buildup to a key sex scene that had caused controversy when it was first released, to seem more natural and accepting than he does the sexual encounters that actually do seem the norm in society.


Justin Deimen

Re: Murmur of the Heart (1971 / France)

Postby A » Sun Sep 17, 2006 1:05 am

I had watched the last 15 minutes on TV some years ago, but they did not seem as interesting as your review suggests. Since I somewhat "discovered" Louis Malle anew this year, it would be interesting to see it. In an interview from the 70s with Malle, which i watched recently, this film was discussed as something of a turning point in his career, a point where he started to discuss more complex issues in his films, which were not necessarily familiar to him, and which also posed a challenge to himself as an artist as well as a human being.
Thanks for your review. How is the transfer bz Criterion btw? I hope as good as can be expected from them.

Re: Murmur of the Heart (1971 / France)

Postby justindeimen » Sun Sep 17, 2006 5:46 am

I thought the last 15 minutes weren't as good as the start of the film, but still aces all round for me

The transfer was surprisingly clear, very impressed. Much better than the boxset of amoral tales by Eric Rohmer I bought recently, which was obscenely priced compared to this.

Re: Murmur of the Heart (1971 / France)

Postby jcdavies » Sun Sep 17, 2006 5:46 pm

This has long been my favourite Malle, even if Au Revoir les Enfants goes deeper. I like the humour, the light unpretentious and non-judgemental way in which the subject is handled- qualities unimaginable in anything Hollywood might do on incest. It has a zest for life and all sorts of little pleasures, is very endearing.

Re: Murmur of the Heart (1971 / France)

Postby A » Sun Sep 17, 2006 5:48 pm

Ok, ok, I get it. Will put it alongside some other films by Malle which I want to see in the future.
Initially I had wanted to skip it, as it had seemed uninteresting to me (that is before you two mentioned it ).

Actually how about some recommendations on films by Louis Malle?

I really liked Lacombe Lucien (1977), thought "Elevator to the Gallows" (1957) to be a good debut, and didn't like Zazie dans la metro (1960). And I also enjoyed Damage (1992) btw, which I would from memory place somewhere between the first two mentioned in terms of overall quality. I think that's all of Malle I've seen so far.

The films I want to watch by him in the future are
Au revoir, les enfants (1987)
Atlantic City (1980)
Black Moon (1975)
Place de la rpublique (1974)
Vie prive (1962) (I like bardot, and it could be interesting to watch the couple's "self-image")
and now also Le souffle au coeur (1971) because of your recomendation.

I seem to remember that you are not exactly a fan of Louis Malle, John? What have you seen by him Justin, (or all of the other members) and would recommend?

Re: Murmur of the Heart (1971 / France)

Postby justindeimen » Sun Sep 17, 2006 6:37 pm

Au revoir, les enfants is de rigueur when it comes to Malle.

I've seen the ones you've seen as well as Black Moon, which I feel is vastly underrated by scholastic aptitudes but still not as good as his previous works. I'm trying to get a copy of Vanyaat the moment.

Does anyone have thoughts to share about Valle's personal styles and techniques? I would really like to compare his stylings with the works of other French masters.

Re: Murmur of the Heart (1971 / France)

Postby A » Sun Sep 17, 2006 7:47 pm

From what I've seen, i think his strength lies in observin rather than directly commenting on things. His films are very dependent on the visuals. The editing often seems confrontational to me, not smooth or invisible as in classic hollywood. I'd say that he wants a response by the viewer to his work, and one that doesn't end after the film. Critical of society. I'd say closest to Doillon, despite the fact that he doesn't use dialogue too much, the atmosphere is often similar, and the characters are usually outcasts or outsiders, always people between two states, lpassing from one to the other.
But of course he has worked about 40 years, so you won't be able to get a "complete" picture, but rather different periods. But I've seen very little, so others have surely more to say.

Re: Murmur of the Heart (1971 / France)

Postby wpqx » Mon Sep 18, 2006 3:30 pm

I'm one of the few (in fact the only person I know of) to highly rate Alamo Bay, which seems just utterly forgotten and buried amongst Malle's American films. A very thought provoking film dealing with racial tensions involving Vietnamese refugees. I don't think Malle has an overt masterpiece however, although some of his films (Atlantic City, Au Revoir, Murmur of the Heart) come very close. I'd also like to see Black Moon, the problem is that Facets did a retrospective on all his films, before I lived half a mile down the road.

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