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PopGap #28: Murmur of the Heart (1971)

PopGap #28: Murmur of the Heart (1971)

Written by dorrk
30 May 2017

In many ways, Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart seems like a typical coming-of-age film, especially European ones, which tend to aim for realism over slapstick and start younger than Hollywood's equivalents. It features the usual adolescent introduction to adult vices, and in such a personal way that it's no surprise to discover that Malle wrote it as a partial autobiography. However, even though the tone of the film is not at all critical of its touchy narrative, it dually serves as a comment on the coming-of-age-genre, and perhaps even the carelessness of the French bourgeoisie's libertine approach to transitioning children into adulthood.

Benoît Ferreux stars as Laurent, an exceedingly bright 15-year-old boy who is nevertheless still very much a child. Unlike his rambunctious and troublesome older brothers, Laurent is sensitive, and deeply attached to his doting, sensuous Italian mother (Lea Massari) — although neither she nor Laurent's detached doctor father (Daniel Gélin) offer much in the way of direct or positive parental influence. With his friends, Laurent shoplifts and smokes cigarettes without censure; with his brothers, Laurent drinks wine, fools around with girls, and even visits a whorehouse, but the worst repercussions are mildly humiliating pranks at the hands of other kids and maybe a chiding from an exasperated housekeeper (Ave Ninchi). Michael Lonsdale appears as a priest with a reputation for taking slightly too much interest in his young male students, a quirk which inspires jokes amongst the kids and bemusement amongst the parents. Set in 1954, it's interesting to note that this generation of parents depicted in Murmur of the Heart is just one removed from France's Vichy sympathizers, and seem just as content to go along without any major disruptions to their comfortable lifestyles. In a scene that is easy to overlook, Laurent comes across a parade of French war veterans beset by hecklers, suggesting perhaps that dereliction of responsibility still significantly afflicts France's upper class.

In the form of a bawdy teen comedy, Murmur of the Heart paints an unsettling picture of the effects of unmanaged puberty; what's the natural outcome of catapulting children into sex when their idea of love is still focused on their mother? It's all very casually and yet poignantly done by Malle, with a tenderly damaged performance by Massari, and lingers powerfully in hindsight.

Murmur of the Heart was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickcharter Mike Seaman, who can be found on Flickchart under the username Celldweller7. He ranks it on his chart at #174 / 2317 (92%), where it's 10th on his chart of 89 Coming-of-Age moviesMurmur of the Heart ranked on my Flickchart at #710 (82%), placing it at #53 of my chart of 213 Coming-of-Age movies.

PopGap #28: Murmur of the Heart (1971)

Trailer for Murmur of the Heart (1971)