Murmur of the Heart

Dir: Louis Malle, 1971. Starring: Benoît Ferreux and Lea Massari. Foreign.
Murmur of the Heart

Some of Louis Malle’s most daring films capture the bewilderment that comes with entering young adulthood. Features such as Au Revoir Les Enfants and Pretty Baby not only guide the audience through the tender and turbulent times of their leading youth, but also deliver a glimpse of the social environment and conditions in which they live. Murmur of the Heart is, in few words, a nuance of intimacy and perhaps a re-working of the Oedipus complex. It follows Laurent—a fifteen-year-old boy whose aristocratic identity and layered personality result in a constantly altered state of mind and lavish exercises in rebellion. Due to his social standing and education Laurent is not your average fifteen-year old, and thanks to the privileges of a lax society and the perspective of older, rambunctious brothers, he has come to think of himself as a young man. The current leading lady in his life is his mother; a beautiful Italian who, like a girl of a much younger age, is constantly impressed and smitten with Laurent’s charm and innocence. Known to his older brothers and surrounding family as "sensitive" and intellectual, Laurent also shares a certain vulnerability to jazz, theft, and women. All of this is put to a halt, however, when Laurent develops a heart murmur and is sent on vacation with his mother to receive treatment. With plenty of free time and leisurely activities, Laurent and his mother grow even closer than before, ultimately leading to displays of affection that must later become secrets, and yet are still handled, by Malle, with delicacy.

For a first-time feature-length actor, young Benoît Ferreux is full of surprises. Laurent’s character is like a balanced mesh of puppy dog and tyrant, which somehow blends to make an odd and highly entertaining finished product. Portraying the unmasked desire by boys of this age and social class to become men is a refreshing alternative to the rough-edged machismo upbringings we often see presented in film. For Ferreux to be able to grasp that concept early and portray it correctly is in itself a promise of the fruitful career that was to come.

Likewise, Lea Massari (Antonioni's L’Avventura), keeps up with him. Her presence on screen and her ability to portray a mother with a blend of humor and harshness is just as impressive and, again, an example of her strong performances before and after Murmur of the Heart.

What sets this film apart from other films surrounding the same topics is the care in which it is composed. From the cinematography to the sounds of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and above all its oedipal tone, Murmur of the Heart proves to be an almost theatrical piece of art. At times, one can’t even attempt to hide their laughter. The carefree atmosphere of Laurent and his brothers is contagious. From playing "spinach tennis" at the dinner table to pan-handling for donations for French soldiers (later to spend the money themselves), the upbeat mischief of these boys is quite refreshing. Malle has produced a film that does not exploit youth. Nor does it attempt to shock, disgust, or even exclude the viewer with the subject matter, but rather it lets you in on this small piece of time—its politics, society, and even the subtle secrets of its youth. Highly Recommended!

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Feb 24, 2010 6:01pm
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