Even before I met Pip Starr, I made an attempt to acquaint myself with some of the great directors of foreign films—foreign to Americans, anyhow. Louis Malle (1932–1995) is an interesting case in point because he began as a French film director and later directed American films. I had seen a number of his films including Pretty Baby, but when I first discussed Malle with Pip, he told me about two films I had not heard of: Zazie dans le métro (1960) and Black Moon. The three films are quite different from each other and yet they each feature a young girl playing a leading role in the film. I will be reviewing the other two shortly.
Zazie (Catherine Demongeot) is a 10-year-old girl who is dropped off for a couple of days to stay with an uncle living in Paris. It is explained that Jeanne, the mother, does this every so often when she has a whirlwind romance with someone new. Here the girl is affectionately greeting her uncle, Gabriel.
One of the things she is looking forward to taking a ride on the Métro, the city’s rail line. She is disappointed to learn that it is shut down due to a worker’s strike.
As she is driven to her uncle’s flat, we get a clear picture of her impertinent and refreshing candor in dealing with the adults in her world. Gabriel’s wife Albertine prepares dinner and Zazie talks about becoming a schoolteacher. Why? Because, in her mischief, she wants the pleasure of driving each new class of students crazy!
After going to bed, she is roused by a visit from the landlord who insists that Gabriel not keep that brat in his place.
After overhearing this, she does whatever she can to make trouble for him. In the morning, before her uncle gets up, she dresses and goes out on the town without an escort. The landlord notices this and chases her. She escapes by making a scene and telling the people who gather that he said some bad things to her so that the group mobs him.
She goes back to the Métro entrance to find that it is still shut down. She bawls melodramatically until a man shows up with a sock puppet to cheer her up. Although he insists that he simply loves children, she is no fool. She calls him a dirty old man but, as you can see, she does so playfully and goes along with him anyway to the marketplace.
She cons him into buying her a pair of jeans and he treats her to lunch. Here we see her checking herself out in the mirror with her new acquisition.
After lunch, she abruptly runs off and the man chases after her. It is apparent by this point in the film that many of the scenes were shot by slowing the film stock to parody the fast motion of a silent slapstick film. In an interesting scene, she hides among a set of identically dressed mannequins to confuse the pursuer.
After a series of comical and melodramatic tactics, she laughs maniacally after making her final escape.
She puts on her new blue jeans before going out again with her uncle and his chauffeur, Charles. It appears that the film maker was using the jeans as a symbol of a Zazie’s growing up.
They begin at the Eiffel tower and as she and Charles are climbing down—they get momentarily separated from Gabriel—they have a frank but comical conversation about homosexuality, how some girls get married at 12 and why Charles isn’t married.
The film gets increasingly surreal as it progresses so, suffice it to say, Zazie is swept along in a series of adventures involving the antics and interactions between Madame Mouaque, a policeman and the rest of the characters.
The amusing irony is that by the time the Métro is running again, Zazie is so exhausted, she sleeps through the whole thing.
When her mother picks her up and asks her if anything happened, she simply answers “I got older.”
The film is remarkable the way it deals with serious subjects in such a light-hearted way. Never does the viewer feel that Zazie is in any real danger. Somehow, she knows how to handle herself and whenever characters take themselves too seriously, they are made to appear foolish.