on 9 April 2005
Never has the topic of incest been so sensitively portrayed. There is nothing indulgent, sensationalist or judgmental about it- in fact it is secondary to the real story, that of an adolescent boy's first adult experiences and his family life. If you like 'plot' this film will probably disappoint you, much more like life it has ups and downs and little chapters, rich characters and a few laughs, but no recurrent theme (other than the Charlie Parker soundtrack). Louis Malle's subtlety is masterful; it is a film full of quiet observation and with no overriding message to beat you with.
NB The French edition showing the heads of mother and son is in French with no subtitles.
Le souffle au coeur is one of Louis Malle's very best films, I think, and is certainly the most enjoyable, along with My Dinner With Andre. But that is a very specialised film, never leaving the dining table, whereas this one is a film in the fullest sense, far closer to the basic premise of a moving picture. It shows the life of three teenage brothers in Dijon in the 1950s, and hijinks rule the day with a playful, beautiful mother (Lea Massari) and rather starchy gynaecologist father unable to exercise much control. The jazz Malle so loved is very much to the fore here, as are sexual pranks and a range of feelings, one of which goes in an incestuous direction. The focus is really on the youngest, Laurent (Benoit Ferreux), who has a particular closeness to his mother; however it is a sign of Malle's mastery that the much-discussed scene is less shocking than it might be, even if it does provoke discomfort in the viewer. There is so much in the way of high spirits in the film, so much humour in its conveying of the pele-mele of life in a household with three boys, that the ultimate impression is of a superb affirmation of life. All kinds of things may happen but the stream of life rushes on and many things can be put down to experience in the end and not unduly worried about. This way of thinking seems out of synch with today's promptness to take offence and disinclination to downplay anything in a spirit of generosity, but it is our loss as a general cultural trend.
on 6 February 2016
It is impossible not to warm to this light-hearted, effervescent but touching rite of passage film, which acts as a sort of comedy counterpart to the much more somber Lacombe Lucien which Malle directed three years later. The later movie was set in wartime whereas Murmur is set in a postwar France which has clearly recovered its joie de vivre (in reality life for most of the French was still pretty grim in 1954 but this is a rich family). The performances are lively and Malle takes the story at a cracking pace, no scene lasting longer than a few minutes. Direction and cinematography are a joy throughout.
Only one thing jarred with me which was the degree of licence, especially in sexual matters. Though set in 1954 Dijon and St Tropez, this is clearly 1971 France, the swinging sixties are evident throughout, so much so that some scenes resemble soft porn. But it's one of Malle's most accessible films.