If one were to look at the collective works of Louis Malle it would be quite impossible to pinpoint a specific genre or thematic element between his works. Sure some of the films deal with the issues of childhood loss of innocence, while others are clear studies of the dissipation of a flailing relationship. However, each films within the directors oeuvre is so unique and fully realized that it is impossible to say with any certainty the directors ultimate concern as a filmmaker. This is perhaps no more true than with his 1960 offering Zazie Dans Le Metro, which is about….well I am not exactly sure, but I know it involves an androgynous girl and her somewhat dandy of an Uncle’s traipse through Paris. With that being said it is one of the most genius things I have seen on film in quite sometime and possibly my favorite viewing experience of the year, next only to my recent watching of Secret Sunshine. Zazie Dans Le Metro is the textbook definition of a zany film and is clearly something that affected the work of directors like Terry Gilliam and Steven Soderbergh with its experimental composition and dialogical diversions. Malle’s vision leaks off of the screen in Technicolor and is just as eye-popping as any 3D movie to date. Quite simply, the movie is something to be viewed for explanations are only so helpful.
Zazie Dans Le Metro focuses on the experiences of Zazie (Catherine Demongeot) a wiley young girl who is unwillingly placed in the care of her “hesserosesual” Uncle Gabriel (Philippe Noiret) for a few days in Paris. Desiring only to visit the city metro, Zazie is flabbergasted to discover that the railways have been shut down due to a strike amongst union members. Enraged, Zazie acts out against the adults around her often calling them names and cursing in their presence, in some instances the adults ignore the young girl while in other moments they go out of their way to chastise her for breaking from social norms. Disillusioned by the experience, Zazie is further baffled upon realizing that she is being pawned off on her Uncle Gabriel, simply because her mother desires to spend a torrid day with her lover, whom Zazie runs into multiple times throughout the film. As such, Zazie begins to evade the watchful eye of her Uncle and wanders around Parisian locales that include stores, cafes and one of the most beautifully shot sequences of the Eiffel Tower in the history of cinema, hands down. By the end of the film, Zazie has encountered a multitude of French citizens, each representing a problematic existence within the bustling metropolis that is Paris, and, instead of growing greatly from the experience, Zazie simply leaves still desiring to visit the metro.
Malle’s film is about as satirical as a film can get, considering that the film uses irony, ridicule and about every other form of the comedic style to gets is point across. No character within Zazie Dans Le Metro is treated in an optimistic manner, including the title character who is clearly a self-concerned brat that seeks her own needs above others throughout the film. This is understandable though considering that Zazie’s mother too seeks her own carnal desires above the safety of her mother, something that is reinforced by their continual encounters with one another throughout the film, many of which find Zazie in dangerous situations whilst her mother ignores her for the sweet nothings of her rather sleazy lover. Even Uncle Gabriel is chastised, considering that he is intended to be a gay character, Malle’s adapation plays up on all the stereotypes of homosexuals at the time only to have his actions overlooked by everyone in the narrative. The film also steals from Tati with a heavy dose of slapstick to help make the characters that much more absurd to the viewer. The greatest feat, however, is the cinematography which is incredibly varied and mesmerizing, because, despite being exceptionally well done, it manages to cast the characters in a ridiculous existence by causing the world around them to figuratively consume them. This overpowering only adds to the satirical nature of the brilliant film. Finally, like the best satire, Zazie Dans Le Metro has viewers laughing hysterically from beginning to end, despite making rather dark and disparaging comments about French society as it moved into the sixties.
Zazie Dans Le Metro is easily one of the best releases from Criterion in 2011 and is certainly worth picking up on bluray.