Louis Malle. The letters are languorous and they roll (make that, rrrollllll) off the tongue slow… and sexy … and, well, French. He’s a conundrum. A New Wave filmmaker very much apart from his fellow New Wave filmmakers. He was not one of the Cahiers, did not have a byline with Truffaut or Rivette. He did not particularly put stock in the Auteur theory and, to prove it, created a body of work that is extraordinarily diverse… perhaps stubbornly so.
For me, Malle is the cinematic equivalent of Rene Magritte. Magritte, refusing to surrender to definition, insisted that interpretation of his paintings was futile. Malle, likewise, alternated from the mainstream to the avant garde. Melodramatic? Sure, at times, if he needed to be. Inspired and deliriously visionary? Always.
Skirting, flirting with brilliance… perhaps Malle reached greatness by never overtly (or consciously) striving for it.
“Filmmakers don’t work for posterity,” he once wrote. “We create with celluloid and chemical pigments that … fade away. In 200 years there will be nothing left of our work but dust.”
With all due respect, Monsieur Malle, I hope to God you’re wrong.
Au Revoir les Enfants may be one of Malle’s most famous works, but my favorite is Elevator to the Gallows. Is it Noveau Vague? Noir? Define it as you wish. I don’t care. I love it for many reasons–especially this scene. It lasts only two minutes. No action. No dialogue. Just … emotion. The lens focusing, blurring, sharpening on the beautifully broody Jeanne Moreau. Here she wanders through the streets of Paris in a state of torture over her lover whom she believes has abandoned their plan to murder her husband for a happily-ever-after Life on the Lam.
It’s quiet. It’s visceral. It’s understated, underplayed, under-exposed and utterly… Louis Malle.