In his long, venerable career, he aspired to do it all: elegant mystery-noir pictures ("Elevator To The Gallows"), humanist dramas (many centered around childhood; rites of passage and traumas like “Murmurs Of The Heart" and “Au Revoir Les Enfants"), documentaries of all kinds (including one with Jacques Cousteau, “The Silent World,” that brought them both to the international stage with a Palme d’Or win and a Best Documentary Oscar), romantic caper flicks ("Atlantic City"), lustful and licentious sexual dramas ("Damages," "The Lovers") and narrative-defying experiments (the philosophical conversation piece "My Dinner With Andre") just to name a few. Often exploring socially and politically taboo subjects like suicide, incest, French collaboration with the Nazis and more, Malle consciously tried never to repeat himself.
While Malle was lumped in with France’s Nouvelle Vague for a brief period in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, he was a little old, and would amass a body of work too varied in sensibility, to really be considered a true member of that groundbreaking group. Indeed his objective, unobtrusive, and almost invisible brand of filmmaking was antithetical to their raison d'être. Malle had already established himself in various roles, like as an assistant to Robert Bresson, within France's film industry, before the New Wave hit, and this worked to his advantage, freeing him to venture into genres and styles as they caught his interest, without owing any fealty to ideas not his own and unconstrained by any kind of auteurist agenda. So while smoky gangster noir films like "Elevator To The Gallows" could be (and were) branded as New Wave-esque, Malle’s subsequent eclectic oeuvre defies that association, encompassing both the experimental (though even his most challenging work was never as strange as Godard's most conventional) and the classical, and pretty much all points in between.
"It took me my entire life to paint with the freedom of a child,” was one of Malle's favorite quotes from Pablo Picasso; his work aspired to capture the innocence, spontaneity and honesty of humanity, and especially children.
We make no claim to this being a definitive retrospective of the director’s work and notable exclusions must be excused under plea of subjectivity: we simply consider our picks to be a good primer and hope this short taster menu of five of our favorites (and we could have gone on and picked the likes of "Lacombe, Lucien" "The Fire Within" and "My Dinner With Andre") will whet your appetite for the cinematic banquet that awaits you, should you explore Malle further.
Jeanne Moreau and Louis Malles would work together four times in their career, and while thei for the moody noir “Elevator To The Gallows” (see above) is their best known collaboration, Moreau is no less striking in the sensual and erotic “The Lovers.” Based on the novel “Point de Lendemain” by Dominique Vivant, Moreau stars as Jeanne Tournier, a bourgeois woman bored with her life and marriage, who essentially rediscovers human love through adultery and an illicit affair with Jean-Marc Bory. Naturally, this controversial sentiment scandalized on release (even more so when the heroine’s eye wanders beyond her new lover) and the frank depiction of sexuality (at least for its time), was seen as obscene (in fact, a landmark obscenity case was overturned by the United States Supreme Court when a theater owner was convicted for screening the movie; the suggestion of cunniligus in one scene is downright sexy). Seductive, luminously shot (with beautifully rendered day-for light sequences) and deeply felt, while the conviction that a good lay can positively change the outlook of one’s life didn’t sit with the puritanical, the picture is still as sharp and compelling today as it must have been to shocked audiences in the late ‘50s. Moreau turned into a genuine star after the picture was released. The film won the Special Jury Prize and was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1958.