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Friday, 26 October 2007

Zazie in the Subway (1960) Louis Malle

Zazie is an androgynous and highly precocious twelve year old girl. She's come to Paris with her mother with one aim in sight: to experience the Metro, the world famous Paris subway system. Her mother has a new flame so she disappears off with him from moment one, leaving Zazie instead with her uncle Gabriel, who seems to live on a different plane of reality to everyone around him. Then again half the people around him are far from any standard of normality we might expect, leaving this film in the same quirky world as something like Amelie, which can hardly be a bad thing. I wonder how much Jean Pierre Jeunet was influenced by it.

The style of this film is joyous but far from conventional. I found myself bemused at the way Malle put certain scenes together but laughing aloud anyway. Scenes seem to try to outdo each other in surreality. Quite a lot of film is overcranked so that it can't help but remind of Benny Hill. So much happens in the background that we catch out of the corner of our eye that we often completely lose track of what we're actually supposed to be watching, only to find that we're falling prey to Malle's twisted intentions all along. Early on we experience the most awesome train of Chinese whispers I've seen on film, which gets hilariously reprised later, and nigh on halfway through we see the most amazingly surreal chase scene I've ever been privileged to witness.

Of course it makes us seriously wonder just what we're watching. Obviously this isn't reality, far more like a frenetic live action cartoon, especially with all the bomb throwing that goes on. It has to be entirely within young Zazie's imagination but we're never entirely told that and while it's comic genius it's presented as it if it was the most serious thing in the world. We see second hand children, men literally thrown from one scene into another, boots that talk, cops that forget their own names, a polar bear on top of the Eiffel tower. At one point a man mysteriously turns from white to black and back in a couple of frames. Zazie herself puts her shoes on by throwing them in the air, seemingly teleports and eats mussels but throws away the pearls. At points the soundtrack speeds up, slows down or switches into unknown languages. What is Black Forest Talk anyway?

And I give up taking notes for now. I've seen a few movies lately that require a second viewing to fill in gaps or to increase understanding. This is something to see about a dozen times before you can even make the remotest sense out of it. Right now I'll just say the first half of this is truly wondrous and the second half is completely zany and I'll be buying it very shortly indeed. I expect to watch this film often and maybe one day on viewing number fifty see everything it has to offer.

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