Postcards from the Edge: Louis Malle in India

Unaccountably missing or overlooked on most reviewers’ top DVD releases of 2007 was a remarkable set from Eclipse (Criterion’s no frills, affordable editions division) – The Documentaries of Louis Malle. Among the 7 titles featured were the relatively obscure God’s Country [broadcast on PBS in 1986, but filmed in 1981], And the Pursuit of Happiness [1986, also made for television), Place de la republique [1974] featuring man-in-the-street interviews on a busy Parisian boulevard, Humain, trop humain [1974], a fascinating time capsule of French auto workers with industrial noise and Godard-like imagery and the 18 minute short Vive le tour [1962]. But the real highlights of the collection were Phantom India [1969], a 378 minute portrait of that nation that was distributed theatrically as a 7-episode series, and Calcutta [1969], which was filmed at the same time but released separately (It was nominated for a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival). To call both films an overwhelming experience is an understatement to say the least.

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Gabriel Axel’s The Red Mantle

The name Gabriel Axel might not be familiar to most American moviegoers but many are familiar with his 1987 film Babette’s Feast which became a surprise art house hit and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, beating out Louis Malle’s Au Renoir les Enfants. Ironically, Axel was almost 70 and at the end of his filmmaking career when he experienced a career resurgence. But the film that is considered his first international art house breakthrough is Den Rode Kappe (1967), which was released in Europe as Hagbard and Signe and is best known under the title The Red Mantle in the U.S. The poster above with the awkwardly edited quote – and movie spoiler – from Time magazine also includes the reference “From the producers of Dear John” which means nothing to anyone today but that film was a slightly risque art film in its day (due to the nudity) and a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 1965 (It lost to Elmar Klosand and Jan Kadar’s The Shop on Main Street). Continue reading

Brigitte Bardot Plays Herself

Before he had reached the age of thirty, French director Louis Malle (born in 1932) had already emerged as one of his country’s most critically acclaimed and internationally recognized filmmakers on the basis of his first three films – The Oscar®-winning documentary, The Silent World (1956), which he co-directed with Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the atmospheric noir Elevator to the Gallows (1958), and the controversial adultery drama, The Lovers (1958). Many film critics felt that his fourth film, Zazie dans le metro (1960), based on the novel by Raymond Queneau, was his most adventurous and impressive work to date but it failed to generate ticket sales and was a costly failure. Due to this, Malle felt pressured to make a more commercial feature and the result was A Very Private Affair (1962, French title Vie privée), starring Brigitte Bardot.   Continue reading

Fade to White

Charles Denner retreats from the world in Life Upside Down (1964), directed by Alain Jessua

Charles Denner retreats from the world in Life Upside Down (1964), directed by Alain Jessua

Films that explore mental illness, especially Hollywood productions such as The Snake Pit, The Three Faces of Eve and A Brilliant Mind, usually tend to be heavy on the histrionics providing highly dramatic showcases and Oscar award opportunities for actors. But a descent into madness isn’t always signaled by wildly disruptive or overwrought behavior from the afflicted. Sometimes the illness can creep up slowly by degrees and pass for something more fleeting and subtle that avoids detection during the early stages. Life Upside Down (La vie à l’envers), directed by Alain Jessua, is a remarkable example of this, presenting a man who goes quietly mad while interpreting his erratic behavior as a profound new self-awareness.     Continue reading