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After John Davies' talk + extracts, the film was Zazie dans le Métro (1960), reviewed for New Empress Magazine... :https://t.co/m6KeX1zYo7— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) February 5, 2017
Thanks to John Davies and his event at The Cinema Museum (@CinemaMuseum), I now know a bit about the directorial career of Louis Malle (including some clips), and have seen Zazie.
As the book Malle on Malle (one in a series by Faber in which someone in the film business, in this case Philip French, has conversations with a director about the films then made) gives a synopsis, although I think that there are mistakes of detail, I shall not give my own, not least also because the film – probably like the book that it realizes – defies meaningful summary.
Zazie was released in 1960, and so is exactly contemporary with Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, a film so badly received that it virtually destroyed his career. Both film-makers were saying something new and true, but Malle, although also controversial and with a delight in addressing taboos, did not seem, here, to have ambushed his future film-making.
The film, like its title character (Catherine Demongeot), has enormous energy (Zazie’s wakeful activity is coupled with the capacity to sleep through Armageddon), and filming this novel may have appealed to Malle because of that very vivacity (and undaunted irreverence), as well as because it had been thought impossible: nothing better than a challenge for Malle !
Zazie has few illusions, though she is, naturally, entranced by blue jeans and by the idea of the Métro (which is closed, because of a strike, until the very end – French says that she enjoys her ride, but I believe that she was still asleep). She starts the film by decrying, in no uncertain terms, the taxi that Uncle Gabriel (her mother’s brother, played by Philippe Noiret) has waiting for them – not just because, in true slapstick fashion, it’s full to the brink with other hopeful passengers – and tries to run off into the Métro.
She knows what she wants, and she doesn’t want to be fussed over by Gabriel or his landlord, taking in her stride her mother’s leaving her in his care so that she can go off for the duration with her lover. (Somehow, Zazie doesn’t appear to have been to Paris before, perhaps accounted for by the lover’s newness.) In search of a good time, she courts danger with impunity, treating everything as a game, and she partly has the freedom for her adventures courtesy of falsely implicating the landlord (a scene cleverly mirrored later, when the mysterious Trescallion tells the same gathered company stories about her).
The exuberance of the film, fuelled by Zazie even when asleep on the hoof (leaning on a car’s wing) and throwing bombs at Trescallion in a car-chase, no doubt mirrors that of the novel. The overall impact is crazy and, although Malle said that it went off the rails in the last third, it is almost impossible to know where that happened. The scenes up the Eiffel Tower are truly vertiginous, with access that may have been usual at that time or special to the film.
The scenes on the streets of Paris are, if one stops to think of it, reminiscent of the Keystone Kops, but Malle reclaims that insane energy in a way that makes it seem wholly new, wholly unnerving. That feeds into the final onslaught in the restaurant, where, without explanation, it is the waiters against the diners, and no holds are barred… (but Zazie sleeps).
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)