Louis Malle - Director

Nationality: French. Born: Thumeries, France, 30 October 1932. Education: Collège des Carmes; Institut d'Études Politiques at the Sorbonne, Paris, 1951–53; Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (IDHEC), 1953–54. Family: Married 1) Anne-Marie Deschodt, one son, one daughter (divorced 1967); 2) actress Candice Bergen, 1980, one daughter. Career: Assistant and cameraman to Jacques Cousteau, 1954–55; assistant to Robert Bresson on Un Condamné à mort s'est échappé , 1956; cameraman on Tati's Mon Oncle , 1957; directed first film, 1958; reported from Algeria, Vietnam, and Thailand for French Television, 1962–64; moved to India, 1968; moved to the United States, 1976; returned to France to make Au revoir les enfants , 1987. Awards: Palme d'Or, Cannes Festival, 1956, and Oscar for Best Documentary, 1957, for The Silent World ; Prix Louis Delluc for Ascenseur pour l'échafaud , 1958; special jury prize, Venice Festival, for Les Amants , 1958; special jury prize, Venice Festival, for Le Feu follet , 1963; Italian Critics Association Best Film Award, for The Fire Within , 1964; Grand Prix du Cinema Francais, 1965, and Czechoslovakian best film award, 1966, for Viva Maria ; Grand Prize, Melbourne Film Festival, for Calcutta , 1970;

Louis Malle
Louis Malle

Prix Raoul Levy and Prix Méliès for Lacombe, Lucien , 1974; five Academy Award nominations, including best picture and best director, for Atlantic City , 1980; Golden Lion, Venice Festival, and Prix Louis Delluc, fo Au revoir les enfants , 1987; British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards nomination, best director, and Felix Award, European Film Awards, for Au revoir les enfants , 1988; elected Film Academy Fellow, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1991. Died: Of lymphoma, in Beverly Hills, California, 23 November 1995.

Films as Director:


Le Monde du silence ( The Silent World ) (co-d, ph)


Ascenseur pour l'échafaud ( Elevator to the Gallows ; Frantic ) (+ pr, co-sc); Les Amants ( The Lovers ) (+ pr, co-sc)


Zazie dans le Métro ( Zazie ) (+ pr, co-sc)


Vie privée ( A Very Private Affair ) (+ pr, co-sc)


Le Feu follet ( The Fire Within ; A Time to Live, a Time to Die ) (+ pr, sc)


Viva Maria (+ co-pr, co-sc)


Le Voleur ( The Thief of Paris ) (+ pr, co-sc)


"William Wilson" episode of Histoires extraordinaires ( Spirits of the Dead ) (+ pr, sc)


Calcutta (+ pr, sc); L'Inde fantôme ( Phantom India ) (+ pr, sc) (six-hour feature presentation of TV documentary)


Le Souffle au coeur ( Murmur of the Heart ) (+ pr, sc)


Humain trop humain (+ pr, sc)


Lacombe, Lucien (+ pr, co-sc)


Black Moon (+ pr, co-sc)


La Petite (+ pr, sc); Pretty Baby (+ pr, co-story)


Atlantic City (+ pr, sc)


My Dinner with Andre (+ pr, sc)


Crackers (+ pr, sc)


Alamo Bay (+ pr, sc); God's Country (+ pr, sc)


And the Pursuit of Happiness (+ pr, sc)


Au Revoir les enfants ( Goodbye, Children ) (+ pr, sc)


Milou en Mai ( May Fools ) (+ pr, sc)




Vanya on 42nd Street

Other Films:


La Fiancée du pirate (Kaplan) (role)


By MALLE: books—

Lacombe Lucien , with Patrick Modiano, New York, 1975.

Louis Malle par Louis Malle , with S. Kant, Paris, 1978.

Au revoir les enfants , Paris, 1989.

Milou en mai , with Jean-Claude Carrière, Paris, 1990.

Malle on Malle , Paris, 1993.

By MALLE: articles—

"Avec Pickpocket , Bresson a trouvé," in Arts (Paris), 3 January 1960.

" Les Amants ," (text) in L'Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 March 1961.

" Le Feu follet ," (text) in L'Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 October 1963.

"Louis Malle: Murmuring from the Heart," interview with N. Pasquariello, in Inter/View (New York), July 1972.

" Phantom India ," with E.L. Rodrigues, in Film Heritage (New York), Fall 1973.

"Louis Malle on Lacombe Lucien ," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1974.

"Like Acid," interview with Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming (London), December 1975.

"From The Lovers to Pretty Baby ," interview with Dan Yakir, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1978.

"Creating a Reality That Doesn't Exist," interview with A. Horton, in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 2, 1979.

Interview with P. Carcassonne and J. Fieschi, in Cinématographe (Paris), March/April 1981.

Interview in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Autumn 1982 and Winter 1983.

Interview in Jeune Cinema (Paris), June/July 1987.

Interview in Cineforum (Bergamo), June/July 1987.

Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1987.

Interview with Robert Benayoun, and others, in Positif (Paris), October 1987.

"Focus: Au Revoir les Enfants ," an interview with D. Chase, in American Film (New York), January/February 1988.

"Off Screen: Louis Malle, Remembrance of Things Past," interview with Stephen Harvey, in The Village Voice (New York), 23 February 1988.

"Movies: Childhood's End," interview with Elvis Mitchell, in Rolling Stone (New York), 24 March 1988.

"Dialogue on Film: Louis Malle," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1989.

Interview with Candice Bergen in Interview (New York), June 1990.

"My Discussion with Louis," an interview with George Hickenlooper, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 18, no. 2, 1991.

Interview in Mensuel du Cinéma , no. 1, November-December 1992.

Interview in Time Out (London), no. 1171, 27 January 1993.

Interview with Andre Gregory in Vogue , November 1994.

On MALLE: books—

Chapier, Henri, Louis Malle , Paris, 1964.

On MALLE: articles—

Strick, P., "Louis Malle," in Film (London), Spring 1963.

Ledieu, Christian, "Louis Malle détruit son passé à chaque nouveau film," in Arts (Paris), 9 October 1963.

Gow, Gordon, "Louis Malle's France," in Films and Filming (London), August 1964.

Price, James, "Night and Solitude: The Cinema of Louis Malle," in London Magazine , September 1964.

"Director of the Year," International Film Guide (London, New York), 1965.

Lej, Russell, "Louis Malle," in the New Left Review (New York), March/April 1965.

McVay, D., "Louis Malle," in Focus on Film (London), Summer 1974.

"Black Moon," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), December 1975.

Rollet, R.T., and others, "The Documentary Films of Louis Malle," in special Malle issue of Film Library Quarterly (New York), vol. 9, no. 4, 1977.

Article in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1987.

Chemasi, A., " Pretty Baby : Love in Storyville," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1977.

"Louis Malle," in Film Dope (London), December 1987.

Indsorf, Annette, "Coming Home," in Premiere (New York), February 1988.

Denby, David, "Murmurs of an Expatriate's Heart," in Premiere (New York), May 1988.

" Au revoir les enfants Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July 1988.

Martin, M., "Le cinéma d'auteur," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 441, September 1988.

Prédal, René, "L'oeuvre de Louis Malle, ou les étapes d'une évolution personnelle," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), September/October 1988.

Chase, D., article in Millimeter (New York), January 1989.

Roud, Richard, "Malle x 4," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1989.

Chutnow, P., "Louis Malle Diagnoses His Murmur of the Heart ," in New York Times , 19 March 1989.

"Louis Malle Works Both Sides of the Pond," in Variety , 21 March 1990.

Bernstein, R., "Malle Uncorks the '68 Crop," in New York Times , 17 June 1990.

Bishop, K., "My dejeuner with Louis," in American Film (New York), July 1990.

Weinraub, Bernard, "Louis Malle Cuts a Film and Grows Indignant," in The New York Times , 22 December 1992.

Guare, John, article in New Yorker (New York), 21 March 1994.

"Louis Malle" (special section), in Positif (Paris), no. 419, January 1996.

Toubianc, Serge, "La cinéphile au juste," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 498, January 1996.

* * *

In the scramble for space and fame that became the nouvelle vague , Louis Malle began with more hard experience than Godard, Truffaut, or Chabrol, and he showed in Ascenseur pour l'échafaud that his instincts for themes and collaborators were faultless. Henri Decaë's low-light photography and Malle's use of Jeanne Moreau established him as emblematic of the new French cinema. But the Cahiers trio with their publicist background made artistic hay while Malle persisted in a more intimate voyage of discovery with his lovely star. As the cresting new wave battered at the restrictions of conventional narrative technique, Malle created a personal style, sexual and emotional, which was to sustain him while flashier colleagues failed. Of the new wave survivors, he was the most old-fashioned, the most erotic, and, arguably, the most widely successful.

Re-viewing reveals Ascenseur as clumsy and improbable, a failure redeemed only by the Moreau and Maurice Ronet performances. A flair for coaxing the unexpected from his stars had often saved Malle from the consequences of too-reverent respect for production values, a penchant for burnished low-lit interiors being his most galling stylistic weakness. But playing Bardot against type in Vie privée as a parody of the harried star, and using Moreau as one of a pair of comic Western trollops (in Viva Maria ) provided an indication of the irony that was to make his name.

Thereafter Malle became a gleeful chronicler of the polymorphously perverse. Moreau's hand falling eloquently open on the sheet in Les Amants as she accepts the joy of cunnilingus is precisely echoed in her genuflection to fellate a yoked George Hamilton in Viva Maria. Incest in Souffle au coeur , child prostitution in Pretty Baby , and, in particular, the erotic and sadomasochistic overtones of Nazism in Lacombe, Lucien found in Malle a skillful, committed, and sensual celebrant.

Malle's Indian documentaries of 1969 belong more to the literature of the mid-life crisis than to film history. Black Moon likewise explores an arid emotional couloir. Malle returned to his richest sources with the U.S.-based films of the late 1970s and after. Pretty Baby, Atlantic City, My Dinner with Andre , and Alamo Bay delight in overturning the stones under which closed communities seethe in moist darkness. The ostensible source material of the first, Bellocq's New Orleans brothel photographs, receives short shrift in favour of a lingering interest in the pre-pubescent Brooke Shields. Atlantic City relishes the delights of post-climactic potency, giving Burt Lancaster one of his richest roles as the fading ex-strong-arm man, dubbed "Numb Nuts" by his derisive colleagues. He seizes a last chance for sexual passion and effective action as the friend and protector of Susan Sarandon's character, an ambitious nightclub croupier.

My Dinner with Andre focuses with equal originality on the social eroticism of urban intellectuals. A globe-trotting theatrical voluptuary reviews his thespian conquests to the grudging admiration of his stay-at-home colleague. An account of theatrical high-jinks in a Polish wood with Jerzy Grotowski and friends becomes in Andre Gregory's fruity re-telling, and with Malle's lingering attention, something very like an orgy. Again, production values intrude on, even dominate the action; mirrors, table settings, the intrusive old waiter, and even the food itself provide a rich, decorated background that adds considerably to the sense of occasion. Malle sends his audiences out of the cinema conscious of having taken part in an event as filling as a five-course meal.

Given this general richness, it may be by contrast that certain of Malle's quieter, less vivid works shine. Zazie dans le Métro , his fevered version of Queneau's farce, marked his first break with the stable pattern of the new wave. Compared with Godard's Une Femme est une femme , it shows Malle as the more skillful of the two at remaking the genre film. The terse Le Feu follet , a vehicle for Maurice Ronet adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited , showed Malle moving towards what had become by then the standard "new" French film, characterized by the work of the so-called "Left Bank" group of Resnais, Varda, Rivette, and Rohmer. But again Malle found in the character a plump, opulent self-regard that turned Le Feu follet , despite its black and white cinematography and solemn style, into a celebration of self-pity, with Ronet at one point caressing the gun with which he proposes to put an end to his life. Like the relish with which Belmondo's gentleman thief in Le Voleur savours the objects he steals, Malle's love of physicality, of weight and color and texture, seems so deeply rooted as to be almost religious. (And Malle did, after all, work as assistant to Bresson on Un Condamné à mort s'est échappé. )

The latter stages of Malle's career included one well-publicized fiasco and two very different but equally brilliant films. The former is Damage , a boring adaptation of Josephine Hart's best-seller, crammed with boring sex footage of Jeremy Irons (as a British politician) and Juliette Binoche (as his son's girlfriend, with whom he commences an affair). The film is of note only for the hubbub created when Malle was forced to edit footage to earn the film an R (rather than NC-17) rating, and for Miranda Richardson's brief but riveting presence as Irons' rejected wife.

Au revoir les enfants , on the other hand, is as fine a film as Malle ever has made. It is set at that point in time, if such a moment can be measured, in which childhood inevitably and irrevocably ends. The film is a heartbreaking autobiographical drama which tells the story of Julien Quentin, a universal 11-year-old: a spirited prankster who attends a rural Catholic boarding school in Occupied France. Julien senses something unusual about a new classmate, a sweet-faced, bushy-haired, exceptionally intelligent boy called Jean Bonnet. Jean really is a Jew, in hiding at Julien's school. And Julien is oblivious to what Jean knows all to well: In Occupied France, it's highly dangerous—and nearly always fatal—to be Jewish. The film, ultimately, is a story of heroes and villains, of those who will risk their all to shelter the needy and those who will collaborate with the enemy to fill their pockets or gain a false sense of power. Malle slowly, carefully introduces you to his characters, so the resulting impact of the unfolding events is that much more profound. One example of Malle's mastery: Julien and Jean become lost in a forest, and are come upon by German soldiers. Jean's sense of all-encompassing terror, revealed in a split second as he panics and runs, is explicitly real. Additionally, there is a sequence in which the students come together for some entertainment and laugh at Chaplin cavorting in The Immigrant. Here, Malle communicates how film can be a true universal language, how the genius of an artist such as Chaplin is timeless. In its overall setting and view of life and loyalty in Occupied France, Au revoir les enfants is related thematically to Lacombe, Lucien. Julien's feelings for his mother, as personified by his sniffing for her scent after reading one of her letters, mirrors the intense mother-son relationship in Murmur of the Heart. Vanya on 42nd Street , which reunites Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, the entire cast of My Dinner with Andre , is as stunningly original as the earlier film. The setting is a crumbling theater in midtown Manhattan that once was home to the Ziegfeld Follies. The film opens with actors converging on the theater, where they will rehearse a stage production of an adaptation by David Mamet of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. Gregory is the director, while Shawn plays the title role. As the rehearsal proceeds, Vanya on 42nd Street becomes at once a highly cinematic example of filmed theater and an intimate look at the illusion that is the theater.

Sensual and perverse, Malle is an unlikely artist to have sprung from the reconstructed film-buffs of the nouvelle vague. It is with his early mentors—Bresson, Cousteau, Tati—that he seems, artistically and spiritually, to belong, rather than with Melville, spiritual hero of the Cahiers group, and there is a strong flavour of essentially French autobiographical soul searching in his Au revoir les enfants and Milou en mai. If Truffaut turned into the René Clair of the new French cinema, Malle may yet become its Max Ophüls.

—John Baxter

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