Thursday, November 08, 2007

Murmur Of The Heart

Known as Le souffle au coeur in French, and directed by Louis Malle, there is no other way of describing this movie other than brilliant. This movie is usually described as a comedy, as a coming of age movie, a passage from adolescence to adulthood, a movie about sexual maturity and a young boys sexual attraction to his mother and an incestuous scene, a movie that is erotic and a typically French depiction of these themes. However, even though it may be a few of these things, it is never all of them but a different way of looking at these things, against a background of political change, end of France's colony in Indo-China and a youth that is seemingly beginning to rebel.

A young boy called Laurent, living with his parents and 2 older brothers is shown in the first scene as a lover of jazz as he goes about his life, from school to home. He is however more close to his mother, whom he discovers is having an extramarital affair. Unhappy about it, he is diagnosed with a heart murmur, because of aortic insufficiency, a sequel of scarlet fever, and leaves for a spa with his mother. He gets to know a few people his age, learns more about his mothers quest for love, reflects and fantasizes about his own mother and on Bastille day, ends in an incestuous act with his mother, who is drunk at that time. This is only a bare sketch.

I liked this movie a lot, it is delightful. There is a certain family bonhomie depicted throughout this movie, even when we see that it might fall apart, especially when we know that the mother of the three young men is having an extramarital affair. Yet the emotional display in the family never reaches a nauseating point, never embarrasses you as Hollywood's treatment of a similar situation might.

I felt that Laurent was not growing up but had already grown, he seemed politically sure and felt that another boy at the spa was speaking like a fascist. Laurent is intelligent enough to keep his thoughts, somehow of a rebellious nature to himself, yet he participates in the usual activities, like trying to lose his virginity with his brothers without any fear. He is thus a classic example of a nonmilitant rebel, who feels a great tenderness towards his mother and tries to see her problems objectively. He does covet his mother but that is not a lewd act, it is more of a tender, a melancholic incest. In fact, his mother is a carefree person, admittedly not a capable mother yet strong enough to not get hemmed in this extramarital affair. Both Laurent and his mother seem more emotionally mature than the rest of the family, and both decide to keep their secret to themselves, as his mother asks him to remember it tenderly.

The movie ends in a delightful scene, with the family together and laughing at Laurent's expense with Laurent too joining in, yet this scene is not sentimental but shows a particular emotion, a pose, an angle, with Laurent learning to laugh at himself and his mother laughing at them both. The performance by Bennoit Ferreux as Laurent is assured and spontaneous, his smile infectious while Lea Massari as Laurent's mother is an epitome of carefree and careless sexuality. She is seductive but does not know it. There is humour and politics but that is treated without love or malice or threat and the background jazz, of Charlie Parker suits the rhythm of this movie admirably.

I found some reviews of this movie on the Internet a bit tedious and pretentious, with a certain bourgeois way of treating this theme. This movie is a way of looking at things, it is a tender, melancholic refrain, a delicate way of handling politics and it mocks at bourgeois ways. Perhaps that is why it attracts such reviews. There is no Oedipus in this movie. The boy is healthy psychologically and we hope his heart murmur did not create a problem. There is no bed wetting, no oral and anal arrest, no need for Freudian explanations . It is a great and warm movie about love and tenderness, and I warmed up to Laurent for many reasons, not just because he was reading The Myth Of Sisyphus.


Alok said...

"melancholic incest" now that's something I have never heard before..!! It captures the mood and sexuality of the film very well... a perfect phrase.

actually this is what impressed me most about it, its portrait of a sexual expression that is far from morbid but rather celebratory, tender and exulting without being shallow. It is specially noticeable because of its seeming transgressiveness.

Alok said...

Laurent is a very precocious fellow. He knows Proust and if I remember correctly writes a long essay on Heraclitus too....

Kubla Khan said...

Alok.....melancholic incest.....i just coined this expression while writing the post.
it actually conveys what i saw, felt while watching this movie. i am glad it hasnt shocked you. as you say........"its portrait of a sexual expression that is far from morbid but rather celebratory, tender and exulting without being shallow" that is exactly what i felt too.
there was a glumness, a sadness about that scene and yet celebratory too.
i read your post too and know that you liked this movie too.

Marta said...

Hi! this is the best review have ever read about this movie :)
I suspect that many 'american' sort of copies of this plot have not even considered most of the things you noticed!

Kubla Khan said...

Hi Marta....
thanks! the other reviews are slightly favour of a conventional view, a view that has been established, to see and to consistently see it in that way.