Review: ‘3 Films by Louis Malle’

Criterion's "3 Films by Louis Malle" set reveals the radical difference between movies <I>for</I> children and movies <I>about</I> children. Malle's fascination with these controversial coming-of-age tales seems to hinge on his young characters' capacity for sexuality, cruelty and violence.

Packed with what the MPAA calls “adult situations,” Criterion’s “3 Films by Louis Malle” set reveals the radical difference between movies for children and movies about children. Malle’s fascination with these controversial coming-of-age tales seems to hinge on his young characters’ capacity for sexuality, cruelty and violence — much of which is drawn from the director’s own experience. The bonus disc (available exclusively with the set) features more than three hours of interviews with Malle, biographer Pierre Billard and widow Candice Bergen that reveal the depth of his personal attachment to the material.

In “Au revoir les enfants,” which makes its long-awaited DVD debut, the director was finally able to tell the defining event of his childhood: Growing up in Nazi-occupied France, Malle never forgot the day soldiers invaded his boarding school to collect his Jewish classmates and arrest the priests who were hiding them.

“He never wanted to do it as a film until he felt really confident about how he handled it,” Bergen explains. Though Malle covered a wide range of subjects in his career, by collecting “Au revoir les enfants” with “Murmurs of the Heart” and “Lacombe, Lucien,” Criterion suggests how “the first two films helped give birth to the third,” as Billard puts it.

With its frank treatment of a young man’s sexual awakening, “Murmurs of the Heart” marks the first time Malle fictionalized his own adolescence. In an old French TV interview, he denies the pic’s autobiographical origins, but later confesses the Oedipal satire fictionalizes “an old fantasy of mine.”

“Maybe it’s better to make a film about making love with your mother than dreaming about it all your life,” he kids. (Pic was also an inspiration for Noah Baumbach, whose commentary on the “Squid and the Whale” DVD credits “Murmur’s” influence.)

Unavailable in the U.S. since its 1974 release, the equally incendiary “Lacombe, Lucien” (which Malle considered his best work) seeks to understand a young French peasant who exacts “social revenge” on those who once looked down on him by joining the German police — a theme that recurs in “Au revoir.”

These two earlier pics, which function almost like feature-length extras for consumers most familiar with “Au revoir les enfants,” prove every bit as mature as Malle’s best-known work.

3 Films by Louis Malle

March 28; Six-disc set: $79.95


A Criterion Collection release of "Murmur of the Heart" (1971), "Lacombe, Lucien" (1974), "Au revoir les enfants" (1987).


With: Bennoit Ferreux, Lea Massari, Pierre Blaise, Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejto.
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