Monday 12 November 2007

Black Moon (1975) Louis Malle

I've been watching all these Louis Malle films on my own, but couldn't resist waiting on this one so my lass could watch too, given that it was apparently a fantasy film with unicorns and whatnot. An adult version of Alice in Wonderland, I'd read. Well I remember Alice starting by following a rabbit down a rabbit hole, not running over a badger in her car. It appears to be wartime, as evidenced by the human corpses we soon see, as well as the sounds of gunfire in the distance and the road being blocked by some huge gun. Suddenly the comparison isn't to Alice in Wonderland but to Pan's Labyrinth, except it seems to be a pretty clearcut war between men and women and both sides seem to be as vicious as each other.

Stuck in the middle of this war is Lily, a young girl who doesn't seem to be interested in fighting on other side, and played by Rex Harrison's granddaughter Cathryn. Apart from the many animals we see (a herd of sheep, a praying mantis, cockroaches, you name it), she's the only one who appears to not want to be involved. That is, of course, until she sees a unicorn and follows a horse and rider to a place where naked kids are taking a pig for a run. Yes, this is an odd film indeed and it's hardly a surprise to find a relative of Luis Buñuel involved (his daughter-in-law Joyce co-wrote the story by contributing additional dialogue).

Director Louis Malle wrote the film but it could easily have come from the pen of Buñuel, especially the avant garde piano soundtrack that quickly becomes apparent as a cat walking across the keys. This is in a house that is apparently empty when Lily arrives, but in which the fire is blazing and the pot is cooking, and in which she soon discovers an old bedridden woman carrying on a gibberish conversation with some sort of rat. This is Old Lady, hardly the most politically correct credit, but an apt one. She's played by Thérèse Giehse as someone who only communicates with the world through her ham radio.

Not that anything is particularly easy to describe before that, but from then on things get even more bizarre. The old lady dies but doesn't seem to be dead, continues raving in gibberish though occasionally switches to fluent English and startling lucidity, and breastfeeds from the breast of her daughter. Or at least I think it's her daughter, one of a pair of incestuous twins, both also called Lily. She's played by Louis Malle's own companion of the time, Alexandra Stewart, and her twin is Joe Dallesandro from various Andy Warhol movies.

The connection to the real Malle himself is made even more apparent by the choice of what must be considered another member of the cast: the house itself, which was Malle's own gorgeous manor in the French countryside, called Le Coual or The Crow's Call. No wonder there are so many animals pervading the film at almost every step. And presumably Stewart lived here, along with Malle, making their commute to work a pretty quick one.

Critics seem to have alternately slated and revered the film, with almost nobody hanging around in the middle ground. I can understand that because it makes no sense and has no real story to tell (though there are so many potential allegories that go tantalisingly unconfirmed), but it's magnetic and visually stimulating. The cinematographer was Sven Nykvist, long term director of photography for Ingmar Bergman, and he does an awesome job here. I was blown away by the early scenes of Lily driving around in the warzone. The camera was presumably mounted on the side of the car, but with a steadicam so steady that it beggars belief.

This film is very strange, needless to say. It's hallucinatory in a pleasant sense but ultimately unfulfilling, and while it looks awesome there's something missing.

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