Film Series / Events

Search All Film Series (1999-present)
Browse All Film Series

September 9 - October 4, 2005

Too Human: The Films of Louis Malle

Born to a family of wealth and privilege, Louis Malle emerged in the 1950s as one of the maverick voices of the French New Wave. Unlike many of his New Wave contemporaries, Malle defied the auteurist trappings of the movement by exploring new formal and thematic concerns with each project. Ten years after his death, we celebrate the versatility of this modern master with a selection of his noted fiction work, including his early French films and his later meditations on the United States, his adopted home following his marriage to Candice Bergen. We also present a selection of his rarely screened documentaries, including the HFA's print of Malle's first film, The Silent World, and the complete Phantom India series, presented in two parts.

This program is organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and co-presented with French Cultural Services in Boston and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Please visit www.mfa.org/film for additional film screenings. Special thanks to Sarah Finklea, Janus Films, and Paul Ginsburg, Universal Films.

Program notes for The Silent World, Human, Too Human, Phantom India, Calcutta, Place de la République, A Very Private Affair, The Thief of Paris, Black Moon, Viva Maria, God's Country, and And the Pursuit of Happiness adapted from the Film Society of Lincoln Center.


September 9 (Friday) 7 pm
September 11 (Sunday) 7 pm

The Silent World (Le monde du silence)

Directed by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle
France/Italy,1956, Color, 86 min.
French with English subtitles

Louis Malle was just 23 when he was asked by author and undersea explorer Cousteau to help make a film that could act as an illustrated companion to his immensely popular book also entitled The Silent World.  The film surpassed even the book in its popular impact, garnering an Oscar for Best Documentary and the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.  A lyrical meditation on the mysteries of the physical world, and humankind's tentative steps to explore them, the film follows Cousteau and his crew as they navigate the oceans; the underwater cinematography, much of it shot by Malle himself, is breathtaking, the brilliantly colored coral reefs serving as a stationary counterpoint to the teeming schools of sea life whizzing past them.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 9 (Friday) 9 pm
September 11 (Sunday) 9 pm

Human, Too Human (Humain, trop humain)

Directed by Louis Malle
France, 1974, Color, 75 min.
French with English subtitles

Working with Etienne Becker, who also shot most of Phantom India, Louis Malle explores the inner workings of the Citroën factory in Rennes, Britanny. At first the film seems to be a celebration of the idea of teamwork, of the many talents and skills that go into the construction of even a single automobile, but gradually the film takes on a darker tone, as the routine of the job and the physical discomfort of the environment itself start to take their toll.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 9 (Friday) 9 pm
September 11 (Sunday) 9 pm

Vive le tour

Directed by Louis Malle
France, 1962, Color, 18 min. 
French with English subtitles

This stirring tribute to the annual Tour de France was inspired by Malle's devotion to his favorite leisure time activity, bicycle racing.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 10 (Saturday) 4 pm
September 12 (Monday) 7 pm

Phantom India (Episodes 1-3) (L'Inde fantôme)

Directed by Ken Jacobs
US, 1957, color, 200 min.
With Jack Smith, Jerry Sims, Gib Taylor, Bill Carpenter, Cecilia Swan, Ken Jacobs

September 10 (Saturday) 7 pm
September 13 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Phantom India (Episodes 4-7) (L'Inde fantôme)

Directed by Louis Malle
France, 1968, Color, 216 min.
French with English subtitles

 

Had Louis Malle only made Phantom India, he would still hold an honored place in the history of film.  Made with a small crew consisiting of cinematographer Etienne Becker and sound man Jean-Claude Laureux, Phantom India is not only a remarkable document of a time and place, but also a meditation on the difficulty of truly knowing the Other. Malle found this work to be inspirational: "In the autumn of 1967 I was asked by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to present in India a series of eight French films... I was supposed to stay two weeks but I ended up staying almost two months... After those two months I realized that although India was impossible to understand for a foreigner - it was so opaque - yet I was so completely fascinated by it that I would have to come back.  So I returned to France at the end of 1967, and in a couple of weeks I raised the money I needed... My proposition was that we would start in Calcutta, look around and eventually shoot.  No plans, no script, no lighting equipment, no distribution commitments of any kind... It was enormously important for me, and I'm still trying to make sense of it today."

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 14 (Wednesday) 7 pm
September 15 (Thursday) 9 pm

Calcutta

Directed by Louis Malle
France, 1969, Color, 105 min.
French with English subtitles

Throughout the years, even at the height of his success, Louis Malle would return to the documentary, perhaps as a way of refreshing himself, of returning to his roots, or as a way of drawing inspiration for future projects.  From 1968 to 1970 he devoted himself to a series of films on India.  The first in the series was this fascinating, impressionistic portrait of India's second most populous city, the capital of the state of West Bengal, which at the time was suffering under martial law.  According to Malle, "The first few days we were walking around with a camera it took us a while to find–I don't know–the innocence, I suppose; to deal with reality as it was, and not try to distort it or interpret it, but just be there, and film it... We were sort of witnesses, but we never pretended that we were part of it or even understood it."

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 14 (Wednesday) 9 pm
September 15 (Thursday) 7 pm

Place de la République

Directed by Louis Malle
France, 1974, Color, 94 min.
French with English subtitles

Louis Malle was always something of an outsider, never quite in synch with cinematic trends.  Place de la République, made with Fernand Mozskowicz, seems a response to the great French cinéma vérité works such as Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin's Chronicle of a Summer and Chris Marker's Le joli mai.  In each, the filmmakers established a method of approaching strangers on the street and asking them a provocative question.  The interaction between the filmmaker and filmed subject is of utmost importance; Malle picks up this style for Place de la République, alternating on-camera interviews with sequences involving hidden camera and microphones.  The result is a fascinating portrait of then- contemporary France, a film that clearly draws from the experience of his Indian films while looking ahead to Malle's American documentaries of the mid-1980s.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 16 (Friday) 7 pm
September 18 (Sunday) 9 pm

A Very Private Affair (Vie privée)

Directed by Louis Malle
France/Italy, 1962, Color, 103 min.
With Brigitte Bardot, Marcello Mastroianni, Nicolas Bataille
French with English subtitles

A look at the phenomenon of media stardom, the film chronicles the rise and fall of Jill (Bardot), spoiled daughter of a wealthy family.  Blessed with beauty and connections, she runs off to Paris with her lover, but soon goes off on her own.  Within no time she's become a movie star, increasingly better known for her adventures off the screen than on it.  She eventually returns home and rekindles an affair with her best friend's ex-husband (Mastroianni). In interviews, Malle claimed to have been unsatisfied with the film; his stars were barely on speaking terms, and what he thought would be a critique of "star culture" seemed to transform into something else.  Seen today, however, the virtues of A Very Private Affair seem more apparent, not the least being the touching performance from Bardot.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 17 (Saturday) 7 pm
September 19 (Monday) 9 pm

The Thief of Paris (Le Voleur)

Directed by Louis Malle
France/Italy, 1967, Color, 120 min.
With Jean-Paul Belmondo, Geneviève Bujold, Marie Dubois
French with English subtitles

In the middle of a burglary, Georges Randal (Belmondo) recalls the events that led to his becoming one of Paris's master thieves.  An orphan raised by his uncle, Georges enjoyed the security of a trust fund left to him by his dead parents and the admiration of his beautiful cousin Charlotte (Bujold).  But when he returns from military service, he discovers that his uncle has embezzled his money and that his cousin is engaged to marry someone else.  At Charlotte's engagement party, Georges makes off with the family's jewels, and in the process develops a taste for robbery. One of Malle's most underrated films, The Thief Of Paris features a wonderful ensemble cast that creates a vibrant portrait of the Paris demi-monde that becomes Georges's new home.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 17 (Saturday) 9:15 pm
September 19 (Monday) 7 pm

Black Moon

Directed by Louis Malle
France/Italy/West Germany, 1975, Color, 100 min.
With Therese Giehse, Cathryn Harrison, Joe Dallesandro
French with English subtitles

After enjoying critical and commercial successes with Murmur of the Heart and Lacombe, Lucien, Malle decided to go for something much more experimental and free-form.  Always a great fan of myth and fantasy, and especially of the work of Lewis Carroll, Malle tries to create the special, charged atmosphere of a world in which actions, objects and creatures are never quite what they seem.  The film begins when the teenaged Lily (Harrison) has a road accident and discovers she's landed smack in the middle of some kind of civil war.  Fleeing into a nearby field, she comes upon a lonely mansion inhabited by an old lady (Giehse) who knows how to talk to animals.  Shot by the great Sven Nykvist, Black Moon offers a distinctively different approach to the theme of adolescent self-realization that has been a frequent concern in Malle's work.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 18 (Sunday) 7 pm

Viva Maria!

Directed by Louis Malle
France/Italy, 1965, Color, 117 min.
With Jeanne Moreau, Brigitte Bardot, George Hamilton
French and German with English subtitles

Perhaps only Malle could have imagined teaming international sex symbol Brigitte Bardot with New Wave icon Jeanne Moreau. Itinerant Irish revolutionary Maria O'Malley (Bardot) escapes into the Central American jungle after her father is killed during an attempted bombing in a British colony.  She happens upon a traveling circus, and soon becomes part of an act with another Maria (Moreau).  As the circus caravan rumbles through poor, broken-down villages, the two women become increasingly aware of the desperate condition of the people, and of the movement that's forming to liberate them from the vicious exploitation of the landowners.  A potent and highly comic mix of travelogue, circus story, politics and a little bit of striptease, Viva Maria! marked the first collaboration between Louis Malle and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, who would become one of his closest collaborators.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 20 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Crackers

Directed by Louis Malle
US, 1984, Color, 91 min.
With Donald Sutherland, Jack Warden, Sean Penn

A remake of the 1958 Italian comedy Big Deal on Madonna Street, Crackers transposes the setting from Rome to San Francisco but keeps the group of quirky and clumsy criminals who plan a safe-cracking caper.  The eccentric gang of thieves (including veteran actor Sutherland and then-newcomer Penn) attempts the burglary of a local pawnshop (owned by Warden) only to bungle the job in a series of escalating misadventures that comically highlight the ineptitude of the crew.  In what may be construed as a self-reflexive joke, Malle includes Wallace Shawn as a crook who never stops eating.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 20 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Alamo Bay

Directed by Louis Malle
US, 1985, Color, 98 min.
With Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Ho Nguyen

Based on real-life incidents, Alamo Bay carefully explores the racial conflicts between working-class shrimp fishermen and Vietnamese immigrants on the Texas Gulf Coast.  As the newly arrived Vietnamese begin to encroach on the fishing territories of the American locals (many of whom are Vietnam veterans), tensions grow and eventually lead to violence and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.  Against the backdrop of these pressures, troubled veteran Shang (Harris) and the straightforward Glory (Madigan, Harrisís real-life wife) test the strength and viability of their long-standing love affair.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 22 (Thursday) 7 pm

God's Country (Le pays de Dieu)

Directed by Louis Malle
US, 1985, Color, 90 min.

Invited by PBS to make a film in the U.S., Malle decided to focus on the rural community of Glencoe, sixty miles west of Minneapolis. With its well-kept farms and churches, amateur theater groups and town dances, Glencoe seemed like an idyllic example of the American heartland.  Caught up with other projects, Malle put his Glencoe footage aside and only went back to the film in 1985. Returning to the town for a follow-up, Malle discovered a very different scene.  The farm crisis was in full swing, with weekly foreclosures on long-held family farms.  People had begun fleeing to Florida or the Southwest in search of work.  Moreover, Malle began to see some of the cracks in the town's postcard-perfect image, as frustrated farmers blame their troubles on a host of real and imagined enemies.  God's Country is an unsettling chronicle of a very difficult era that offers uncanny echoes of the experiences Malle had depicted in dramatic form in Alamo Bay.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 22 (Thursday) 9 pm

And the Pursuit of Happiness (La Poursuite du bonheur)

Directed by Louis Malle
US, 1986, Color, 90 min.

Commissioned as part of a series of documentaries celebrating the centenary of the Statue of Liberty, And the Pursuit of Happiness begins with Malle reflecting on his own status as a new American (he had been living in the U.S. for almost ten years and had an American wife and daughter).  He seeks out other new immigrants to America and soon realizes how much the face of U.S. immigration has changed.  The new arrivals are more likely to come from Asia, Africa or Latin America than from Europe. Traveling from Vietnamese communities in California to Indian-run motels in the Deep South, conversing with immigrants ranging from West Indian poet (and future Nobel prize winner) Derek Walcott to an Hispanic astronaut who became a citizen in 1977, Malle explores the meanings that the American dream has taken on for these newest Americans.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 23 (Friday) 7 pm
September 25 (Sunday) 9 pm

Vanya on 42nd Street

Directed by Louis Malle
US, 1994, Color, 119 min.
With Julianne Moore, Wallace Shawn, Andre Gregory

In what would be his final film, Malle reprised his collaboration with theater director Andre Gregory and actor-director Wallace Shawn (stars of the hugely popular My Dinner with Andre) to create this wholly innovative, non-theatrical staging of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. Set in a decrepit Times Square theater with a dysfunctional stage and crumbling ceiling, the film documents the preparations for and performance of a David Mamet adaptation of the classic play. Initial scenes follow cast members walking the streets of New York and assembling at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Seamlessly, their banter transitions into dialogue from the play as the performance takes on a strikingly original immediacy. While no film has investigated the transition from theater to cinema with more insight and intellectual rigor, the pleasure of the performances, as the family of actors becomes the family of Chekhov's imagination, remains paramount.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 23 (Friday) 9:15 pm
September 25 (Sunday) 7 pm

My Dinner With Andre

Directed by Louis Malle
US, 1981, Color, 110 min.
With Wallace Shawn, Andre Gregory, Jean Lenauer

Theater director Andre Gregory embarks on a spiritual quest that takes him around the world, and upon his return he has dinner with his friend, playwright-actor Wallace Shawn. In a film that is often hilarious and perceptive, sometimes touching but always engaging and entertaining, Gregory and Shawn talk, banter, and philosophize over their meal. Though My Dinner with Andre feels like eavesdropping on a spontaneous conversation between two intimate friends, Shawn spent a year creating the script, using tapes of his and Gregory's actual conversations as raw material.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 24 (Saturday) 7 pm
September 27 (Tuesday) 9 pm

May Fools (Milou en mai)

Directed by Louis Malle
France/Italy, 1989, Color, 108 min.
With Miou-Miou, Michel Piccoli, Michel Duchaussoy
French with English subtitles

A family gathering at a country home provides an amusing diversion from the tumultuous May 1968 student uprisings in Paris. When the matriarch passes away, the family members gather for her funeral and squabble over how to settle her estate. As the country begins to shut down, the siblings are stranded with their mother's corpse by striking morticians, and they fall into various states of transgression. Malle described the film as a "divertimento," an appropriate designation for a film that shows the satirical influences of Anton Chekhov and Jean Renoir.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

September 24 (Saturday) 9 pm
September 28 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Damage (aka Fatale)

Directed by Louis Malle
UK/France, 1992, Color, 111 min.
With Jeremy Irons, Juliette Binoche, Miranda Richardson
English, French with English subtitles

This faithful film adaptation of Josephine Hart's best-selling novel stars Jeremy Irons as Dr. Stephen Fleming, an upstanding British politician and family man whose erotic obsession with his son's fiancée Anna (Juliette Binoche) eventually destroys his public and private lives. Their extremely passionate sexual encounters are kept secret and plans for the wedding continue undisturbed until Anna's mother reveals a brutal secret and the lives of Fleming and his family begin their descent towards catastrophe, thus emphasizing the close ties between pleasure and suffering. Miranda Richardson gives an emotionally powerful performance as Irons's wife.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

October 3 (Monday) 9:15 pm

Pretty Baby

Directed by Louis Malle
US, 1978, Color, 109 min.
With Brooke Sheilds, Keith Carradine, Susan Sarandon

The inspiration for Malle's first American film was E. J. Bellocq's Storyville, a remarkable photographic record of New Orleans' red-light district, in the early years of the twentieth century. A fourteen-year-old (Shields) is cheer-fully sold into the trade by her mother (Sarandon) and becomes involved with Bellocq himself (Carradine), who finds her a compelling subject of erotic and aesthetic interest. Malle and cinematographer Sven Nykvist achieve the luxuriant look of the period in vivid detail and combine it with a timeless sensuality that has made the film a succés de scandale to this day.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

October 4 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Atlantic City

Directed by Louis Malle
US/Canada/France, 1980, Color, 104 min.
With Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon, Michel Piccoli
English, French with English subtitles

Malle had one of the more illustrious and varied careers in modern cinema: from his early work as a cinematographer shooting underwater films for Jacques Cousteau to a stint as assistant to the legendary French director Robert Bresson to his emergence in his own right as one of the founding figures of the French New Wave.  Atlantic City was part of yet another extraordinary shift marked by Malle's move to the U.S. and his commitment to English-language production. Written by the noted playwright John Guare, the film focuses on a distinctly American tale with universal appeal, following the lives of two very different generations of people who attempt to live in the shadows of the gambling casinos of Atlantic City.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top
Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700