Sunday, September 6, 2009

Murmur of the Heart

Le souffle au cœur; Drama, France, 1971; D: Louis Malle, S: Benoît Ferreux, Lea Massari, Daniel Gélin, Michael Lonsdale

Dijon, '54. Laurent Chevalier is a nervous, secluded 14-year old kid who is annoyed by pranks of his two elder brothers. His father is a gynecologist. His mother Clara acts very sisterly towards him and his brothers. When his brothers bring him to a brothel so that he can lose his virginity, they again play a prank on him when they march into the room just as he was sleeping with prostitute Freda. When Laurent is diagnosed with murmur of the heart, he spends a few weeks with his mom in a sanatorium. There he meets a blond girl, but she is cold towards him. Eventually, Laurent lands in bed with his mom and sleeps with her. They decide to keep it a secret.

Not everybody can make "Amarcord": Louis Malle's bizarre teenage drama with autobiographical elements copes with a few daringly courageous themes, has a great premise and would look like a field day for Freudian psychologists who are analyzing the Oedipus complex, but as a whole "Murmur of the Heart" is a slightly damaged and miscalculated film that more taunts the 14-year old hero Larent with the incestuous theme than it does handle it in a sophisticated way. The actors are great, some details are exquisite and the whole story seizes with its open-hearted approach, but some of the details depicted there come across as too backward and mean-spirited, most notably in the infamous two brothers who pick on Laurent, like when one of them dresses like his mom and ridicules him by impersonating her sweet words or when the two of them unzip their zippers and compare the size of their penises. They even go so far to storm in the room just as he was in the middle of his first intercourse, with a prostitute. The second part of the film, situated in the sanatorium where Laurent becomes more and more attracted to his mother, is better, not just because of fresh acting by Lea Massari, but because it is more subtle (in one scene, he puts her underwear on the bed and then her dress, imaging her) and doesn't explicitly show the sole intercourse moment between them towards the end, yet Malle's uneven and heavy handed approach sometimes still seems like patchwork.


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