Skip to main content

Le Souffle au Coeur

LE SOUFFLE AU COEUR



(Murmur of the Heart)


France, 1971


Director: Louis Malle

Production: NEF/Marianne Productions (Paris), Vides Cinematografica SAS (Rome), and Franz Seitz Productions (Munich); color, 35mm; running time: 118 minutes. Released 1971.


Producers: Vincent Malle and Claude Nedjar; screenplay: Louis Malle; photography: Ricardo Aronovich; music: Charlie Parker and Sidney Bechet.


Cast: Lea Massari (Mother); Benoit Ferreux (Laurent); Daniel Gelin (Father); Marc Winocourt (Marc); Michel Lonsdale (Father Henry); Fabien Ferreux (Thomas).


Publications


Script:

Malle, Louis, Le Souffle au coeur, Paris, 1971.

Books:

Malle, Louis, with S. Kant, Louis Malle par Louis Malle, Paris, 1978.

Arnold, Frank, Louis Malle, Munich, 1985.

Prédal, René, Louis Malle, Paris, 1989.

Malle, Louis, Malle on Malle, edited by Philip French, London, 1993.


Articles:

Greenspun, Roger, in New York Times, 17 October 1971.

Kael, Pauline, in New Yorker, 23 October 1971.

Newsweek (New York), 8 November 1971.

Kalmar, S., "Louis Malle om den naturlige incest," in Fant (Oslo), no. 21, 1972.

Grenier, C., "There's More to Malle Than Sex, Sex, Sex," in NewYork Times, 6 February 1972.

Brustellin, A., in Filmkritik (Munich), March 1972.

Pasquariello, N., "Louis Malle: Murmuring from the Heart," in InterView (New York), July 1972.

Silverman, M., in Take One (Montreal), October 1972.

Muzić, N., in Ekran (Ljubijana), nos. 100–103, 1973.

McVay, Douglas, "Louis Malle," in Focus on Film (London), Summer 1974.

"Louis Malle," in Current Biography Yearbook, New York, 1976.

"Verso una progressiva perdita di senso," in Castoro Cinema (Milan), no. 42, November 1977.

Yakir, D., "From The Lovers to Pretty Baby," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1978.

Macksey, R., "Malle on Malle: Part I," in Post Script (Commerce), vol. 2, no. 1, 1982.

Macksey, R., "Malle on Malle: Part II," in Post Script (Commerce), vol. 2, no. 2, 1983.

Wechster, Maia, "A Tale of Two Cultures: Conversation with French Film Maker Louis Malle," in U.S. News & World Report, vol. 104, no. 6, 15 February 1988.

Kramer, Jane, "The French & Louis Malle," in Vogue, vol. 178, no. 3, March 1988.

Roud, Richard, "Malle x 4: Louis Malle," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 58, no. 2, Spring 1989.

"Louis Malle," an interview, in American Film, vol. 14, no. 6, April 1989.

Hickenlooper, G., "My Discussion with Louis," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 18, no. 2, 1991.

Santamarina, A., and J. Angulo, in Nosferatu (San Sebastian), no. 21, April 1996.


* * *

For all the deliberate diversity and stylistic versatility of Louis Malle's films—qualities for which he has often been criticized— certain clear thematic preoccupations can readily be seen to recur in his work. One such favorite theme is adolescence, which he handles with consistent sympathy and sensitivity—albeit from widely different standpoints—in Zazie dans le Métro, Lacombe Lucien, Black Moon, Pretty Baby and, most successfully of all, in Le Souffle au coeur.

Malle has described Souffle au coeur as "my first film." In fact it was his eighth feature; but it was the first which he had scripted entirely himself, and was also, he felt, "my first happy, optimistic film." Loosely based on reminiscences of Malle's own childhood, the film represents a world seen entirely from the viewpoint of its 15-year-old hero, Laurent, who is present in every scene. Little in the episodic plot is unpredictable: the boy hates his father, loves his mother, veers uncontrollably between infancy and adulthood, and is fascinated, perplexed and disconcerted by his own rampant, unfocused sexuality. The film's freshness lies in the complexity and ironic affection with which Malle depicts Laurent's fumbling attempts at self-definition, and in the physical immediacy of the family which surrounds him—a rich, convincing mixture of jokes, rows, awkwardness, horseplay, feuds and alliances.

Le Souffle au coeur also evocatively re-creates haut-bourgeois provincial society of the early 1950s—the adults obsessed with the imminent fall of Dien-Bien-Phu, their children far more interested in Camus or the latest Charlie Parker album. Beneath the light-hearted charm and the period detail, Malle's concern, as so often in his films, is with the struggle of the individual to assert an independent existence in the face of society's demands (and especially those of the family). Laurent's illness (the "heart murmur" of the title) is shown as a response to the insistent pressures of the world about him—a tactical withdrawal which corresponds, in the more tragic context of Le Feu follet or La Vie privée, with the protagonist's suicide. His liberation from this impasse comes through the act of incest with his mother, a crucial moment treated by Malle with exceptional subtlety and discretion, and played with total conviction by Benoît Ferreux and Lea Massari.

At the time, this scene caused considerable scandal. The French government refused the film its sanction as the official French entry at Cannes, and also banned it from being shown on ORTF (thus automatically entailing the loss of a sizable subsidy). Malle's fault, apparently, was not in having depicted mother-son incest, but in having presented it as an event to be looked back on, in the mother's words, "not with remorse, but with tenderness. . . as something beautiful." Had he shown the participants tormented by guilt, or driven to suicide, it would presumably have been found more acceptable.

Despite official disapproval, or possibly because of it—Le Souffle au Coeur was well received at Cannes, widely distributed in France and abroad, and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Script. With the controversy now long forgotten, the film can be taken on its own terms, and seen as one of Malle's most personal, engaging, and thoroughly accomplished works.

—Philip Kemp

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Le Souffle au Coeur." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Le Souffle au Coeur." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/le-souffle-au-coeur

"Le Souffle au Coeur." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved December 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/le-souffle-au-coeur

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.