Louis Malle, himself elsewhere

Free electron of the New Wave, long neglected by critics, Louis Malle is honored in an ambitious collective work which varies the focal points to place the work of the filmmaker within multiple contexts and underline its profound coherence.

Regarding Louis Malle, almost three decades after his death, we can affirm that the account is not there: compared to other filmmakers who emerged during the same period (notably Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Resnais, Marker), the deficit of studies critical and academic is important, particularly in France. A change is perhaps taking shape: a monograph, signed Aurore Renaut (Gremese, 2022), analyzes this year the most recognized film, Goodbye childrenand Pauline Guedj studied the American part of her career (Louis Malle. Views of America, Ovadia, 2020). Nothing recent had appeared in France on the overall work, until this extensive work, which, directed by Philippe Met for Les Impressions nouvelles, makes it possible to partly fill the gap.

A cinema book

Coming from a conference at the University of Pennsylvania, the work, as its title indicates, seeks to deploy a panorama that can give a meticulous and almost exhaustive vision of Malle's career, to emphasize both its eclecticism and coherence. A copious photographic insert shows us Malle in several filming locations and stays and different periods of his life. Several texts and documents enrich the specific contributions to compose a real book on cinema, and not just on cinema. First of all, we notice testimonies from artists who worked with Malle. In his foreword, Volker Schlndorff, who was his assistant, goes beyond the filming anecdote to deliver a nuanced portrait of Malle, whose tact and sensitivity ensured that he never abused his power of seduction and which social consciousness pronounced () was never “ideological (p. 6). Susan Sarandon, who was also the filmmaker's companion, gives some information on his way of filming: Malle hardly liked to direct with words and liked to thing to let the camera roll without warning the actors. Out of modesty, no doubt, she hardly talks about her relationship with Malle, preferring to mention the screenwriter ofAtlantic CityJohn Guare and Burt Lancaster, star lgo to the cinema (p. 341).

Maurice Ronet in The wisp

The afterword comes from an admiring filmmaker: Wes Anderson recounts in a personal way the significant experience of discovering Malle's films. Fifteen years later, upon surprising Malle's face in Republic Square, he recognized in him the filmmaker he/she had most dreamed of being (p. 428). Finally, Philippe Met inserts a nugget into the volume: a ghost film, an unshot script of an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novel: Victory. This project, which crystallized several times in his career, testifies to a continuous and relentless creativity which belies the filmmaker's reputation for dispersion. Malle is fascinated by the subtlety with which Conrad constructs his novel to gradually reveal his characters and considers that the adaptations that have been made are rude including his own (p. 351). However, Malle's apparent concern to limit the speech of Heyst, the protagonist of the novel, and to film him in a behaviorist manner without determining his intentions at the script stage, is part of a desire to suspend his meaning.

A screen and walkways

The strictly critical contributions are grouped into two sets which aim to cover Malle's work and thus offer a fairly tight grid to offer a global and precise vision, without necessarily disposing of it. shaped like a lock, to use Julien Gracq’s expression. The system is open enough not to be systematic, thanks to varied and complementary perspectives. The challenge of the work is considerable and necessary with regard to a filmmaker attached to his freedom, a precursor of the New Wave without really belonging to it and seeking never to make the same film twice, always going elsewhere in his next film (sometimes literally when he returned to the United States or India), without it being an escape: by always leading a quest for novelty and alterity, he remains himself, a common point of all the films which make him a true author. Philippe Met thus shows that Malle finds in Thief by Georges Darien (p. 191-209) or in the hero of victory of the alter ego which fascinate him (p. 350).

The work begins with cross-sectional studieswhich establish thematic or aesthetic bridges between several films; follow eleven monographic studies each devotes an in-depth analysis of a film.

Louis Malle questioning an unemployed man in Republic Square

The same themes recur and apply to different works or from other perspectives. Thus, two articles are centrally concerned with sound, which is sometimes neglected in film analyses. Jean-Louis Pautrot studies the non-illustrative presence of jazz in three films, to show that if, in Smallhe is apparently a cultural index (), (a) historical marker of the erait takes on a more affective function in Breath in the heart (p. 154). The music of Miles Davis in Elevator for the scaffold would above all be a means ontological to reveal a truth, otherwise inaccessible, about the world represented in the film (p. 161). The study led by Francesca Cinelli on the soundtrack ofAtlantic City reveals that the music sometimes reflects the real situation of the characters, sometimes their utopian aspirations. In the last article signed by Sbastien Rongier, jazz returns: as in Atlantic Citythe music of Vanya, 42e Street, seems to play on the boundaries between its internal fiction and pit music. Jazz would be mobilized to work on improvisation, as the actors seem to do in Chekhov's play.

Malle's relationship to writing is considered twice. Michel Ciment evokes ambiguity and pessimism common to the filmmaker and three writers whom he adapts or with whom he has worked: Roger Nimier for Elevator for the scaffoldDrieu la Rochelle for The wispand Patrick Modiano for Lacombe Lucien. Sbastien Rongier relies on Adorno to show how Malle does not adapt Chekhov but seeks cinematographically write a community experiencewhich highlights tension cinema with theater (p. 331).

The work offers a major overview of the important documentary part of the work, particularly at the beginning of the work. Guillaume Soulez studies how working with Cousteau allowed Malle to question his medium, particularly about the limits of the spectacular in adventure films. The young filmmaker was also led to specify the use of filmic forms, preferring to the gratuitous panoramic the forward tracking shot which mimics the movement of the diver and promotes the identification of the spectator with the filmer (p. 30). This experience allows him to assert aesthetic choices, being as interested, if not more than Cousteau, in human personalities in their singular or collective work as in the unprecedented beauty of the seabed (p. 35). To show the coherence of the work, Caroline Eades rightly emphasizes that there is no separation between fiction films and documentary films: we find the same detailed descriptions of minute and precise gestures (the focus on the hands and the eyes) , the same interest for the medium photographic in The silent world and in Elevator for the scaffold. Derek Schilling focuses on two attempts at direct cinema accused of being reactionary by left-wing critics at the time, to show that Malle, on the contrary, seeks an ethnological look at bodies at work by freeing it from any ideological aim. The collection on documentary work ends with a more general article signed by Alan Williams, who underlines Malle's need to return regularly (four times) to this form when his fictional cinema took a turn that did not satisfy him. The documentary is a way of going elsewhere, both literally in space and aesthetically, by finding a genre of cinema which leads him to reflect on his position and his distance as a filmmaker in relation to a representation of human nature which he seeks to rationalize, there in his fictions. , it leaves a greater place for irrationality (p. 86).

However, the work is not finished with the documentary which returns in the second part to discuss the ethnographic relationship with more precision. Ludovic Cortade looks at lambigut of Ghost India. This masterful film, on the one hand, gives free rein to its camera to record Indian reality until the filmmaker allows himself to be absorbed, and on the other hand, it is, thanks to Malle's voice-over a work haunted by the specter of subjectivity (p. 212). Even on the other side of the world, the filmmaker remains himself, that is to say a Western filmmaker, susceptible to ethnocentrism. When the episode The impossible camera shows the devouring of a bovine by vultures, Malle opposes two judgments in the commentary: the Western film crew believed to see it as a cruel sacrifice steeped in mythology, while the natives are used to these everyday scenes in a country where men have not the right to kill cattle.


The most famous films are revisited in an original way. In cross-sectional studies, Zazie in the metro is put in parallel by Ian Fleischmann with the unknown Black Moon (1975), because they are both conceived from an impossible proposition: the first film attempts to translate Queneau's verbal games into an exercise in mastering cinematic language, while the second tries to give a filmic form to the surrealist automatic writing, in an attempt to let go.

The vultures in Ghost India

Among the monographic studies, a study of the Will-o'-the-wisp by Elisabeth Cardonne-Arlyck from a new and particular perspective: the sense of touch, which manifests itself both in the dialogue, in the gestures of the hero and in the staging of the film. In this part of the work, the films are, for each article, different, but other transversal themes are nevertheless highlighted, always revealing the unity of the work. The relationship with memory and History thus returns to define the importance of several films which marked their era. Sandy Flitterman-Lewis studies how memories intertwine in the creation ofGoodbye children through several motifs that allow the story to take on the theme of justice and the Holocaust: mothers, the candles used during Sabbath prayer, for example. The function of memory in the work returns in a contribution on Breath in the heart. Hugo Frey highlights the depth of the film, which combines autobiography and fiction, either by merging them, or by putting them in parallel, or even in the mode of metaphor or irony (p. 230).

All of the articles are of high quality, so much so that it forms a work which will be a landmark in Mallian studies and, beyond that, in the view of the section of French cinema which, contemporary with the New Wave, has carved out a divergent furrow. Thus justice is done to the importance of Louis Malle. By remaining independent of all movements, fashions and ideologies, he was able to offer a work marked by strong lines and developments that he traced throughout his career.