Murmur of the Heart


1h 50m 1971
Murmur of the Heart

Brief Synopsis

A 15-year-old comes of age despite his father's neglect and his mother's smothering love.

Film Details

Also Known As
Dearest Love, Souffle au coeur, Le, Suffio al cuore, soplo al corazón, Un
MPAA Rating
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Political
Foreign
Release Date
1971
Location
France

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m

Synopsis

A 15-year-old comes of age despite his father's neglect and his mother's smothering love.

Film Details

Also Known As
Dearest Love, Souffle au coeur, Le, Suffio al cuore, soplo al corazón, Un
MPAA Rating
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Political
Foreign
Release Date
1971
Location
France

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m

Award Nominations

Best Adapted Screenplay

1971

Articles

Murmur of the Heart


Murmur of the Heart (1971) is a coming of age tale about a 14 year old boy who wants to lose his virginity but is thwarted by circumstance – and later his older brothers – until he has to share a room with his mother. What might have been a scandalous encounter is turned into something else in the hands of director Louis Malle.

Malle, one of the star directors of the French cinema in the 1960s was, in the words of the critics of the time, in somewhat of a decline. He was accused of not living up to his promise as a member of the French New Wave the decade before, an accusation that was leveled against most of his contemporaries. Malle had recently returned to France after a prolonged stay in India in 1970 when he came upon the idea for a film. "Well, as usual the genesis of Le Souffle au coeur [the original French title of the film] is a little mysterious to me....[B]ecause of all that had happened to me: elements of my childhood came back to me with a vengeance. ..I had reached a point where I was beyond rebellion and I was trying to understand what had happened to me and how I'd become who I was. It's not that I consciously went back to my childhood, my childhood came back to me...I remember how I got to do Le Souffle au coeur ...I worked for a while on a book of Georges Bataille called Ma Mère, which is a very dark and tragic story of incest; very beautiful, but very desperate. I wrote an adaptation here, working for something like a month in 1970. At some point I realized: this is not my voice, this is not my tone. But I don't think it was an accident that I became so fascinated by this particular book. There was something about it that had to do with my own experience as a child. I put aside Ma Mère - I'd written fifty pages, something like that – and I started making notes about what had happened to me when I had a heart murmur. I suddenly admitted to myself, maybe for the first time, that I'd had this strange and very passionate relationship with my mother. And then I wrote a long treatment, eighty pages or something, literally in one week for what became Le Souffle au coeur"

Malle was quick to point out that not everything in the film was strictly autobiographical, "[T]hings didn't happen to me the way they happened in the film. The accidental incest as described in the film never happened in real life. But the beginning of the film was pretty close to where I was at that age." Still, the subject matter had him uneasy until he read the script to another writer. ""Jean-Claude Carrière was here in the house at the time. He'd come to revise a play that he'd written. So the night after I'd finished, I read it to him. He said, 'But Louis, it's great, you must do it.' I was scared of it. I thought it was a little too close, too personal, too intimate. But the way I had dealt with it, which was already strongly indicated in the first text, was very much on a comedy level, which I liked very much. The way the mother and the son ended up in the incest scene, it was described as almost inevitable; when it took place it was an accident more than anything else. Actually, there was no guilt involved. I realized reading it to Jean-Claude and discussing it with him that there was something that was completely natural about it. Maybe that's why incest is so scary, why there is such a taboo about it, because it's so natural for maternal love to turn into something else. I realized that if I wanted to be honest with what I had written, I should go all the way. I came up with the idea that the boy would wake up, and obviously would be very disturbed, but the way he handled it was to go downstairs and sleep with the little girl he was flirting with in the scenes before. It was actually during the shooting that the last scene came to me. The scenes at the spa were shot at the end, and even during the shooting I was wondering, 'How can I end the story?' Then I thought: it must end with a laugh, with the surprise of the whole family being there when he comes back holding his shoes...It was very provocative, but I think a great way of ending the story – like a suspended ending, yet giving a clue to how they could handle what had happened."

Michael Sragow wrote in his article, All in the Family, that Murmur of the Heart offers an unusually full and individualized characterization of a boy whose yearnings, sensitivities, and fantasies outstrip his personality – the sort of unformed figure that creators less bold, candid, or inventive than Malle would never dare to present as their surrogate."

Murmur of the Heart earned Louis Malle an Academy Award nomination for "Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published" in 1973. It was also nominated for a Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971.

Producer: Vincent Malle, Claude Nedjar
Director: Louis Malle
Screenplay: Louis Malle
Cinematography: Ricardo Aronovich
Film Editing: Suzanne Baron, Catherine Snopko, Solange Leprince
Art Direction: Philippe Turlure
Music: Gaston Freche, Charlie Parker, Henri Renaud
Cast: Lea Massari (Clara Chevalier), Benoit Ferreux (Laurent Chevalier), Daniel Gelin (Charles Chevalier), Michael Lonsdale (Father Henri), Ave Ninchi (Augusta), Gila von Weitershausen (Freda).
C-118m. Letterboxed.

by Lorraine LoBianco

Sources:
Malle on Malle by Louis Malle
All in the Family by Michael Sragow
The Internet Movie Database
Murmur Of The Heart

Murmur of the Heart

Murmur of the Heart (1971) is a coming of age tale about a 14 year old boy who wants to lose his virginity but is thwarted by circumstance – and later his older brothers – until he has to share a room with his mother. What might have been a scandalous encounter is turned into something else in the hands of director Louis Malle. Malle, one of the star directors of the French cinema in the 1960s was, in the words of the critics of the time, in somewhat of a decline. He was accused of not living up to his promise as a member of the French New Wave the decade before, an accusation that was leveled against most of his contemporaries. Malle had recently returned to France after a prolonged stay in India in 1970 when he came upon the idea for a film. "Well, as usual the genesis of Le Souffle au coeur [the original French title of the film] is a little mysterious to me....[B]ecause of all that had happened to me: elements of my childhood came back to me with a vengeance. ..I had reached a point where I was beyond rebellion and I was trying to understand what had happened to me and how I'd become who I was. It's not that I consciously went back to my childhood, my childhood came back to me...I remember how I got to do Le Souffle au coeur ...I worked for a while on a book of Georges Bataille called Ma Mère, which is a very dark and tragic story of incest; very beautiful, but very desperate. I wrote an adaptation here, working for something like a month in 1970. At some point I realized: this is not my voice, this is not my tone. But I don't think it was an accident that I became so fascinated by this particular book. There was something about it that had to do with my own experience as a child. I put aside Ma Mère - I'd written fifty pages, something like that – and I started making notes about what had happened to me when I had a heart murmur. I suddenly admitted to myself, maybe for the first time, that I'd had this strange and very passionate relationship with my mother. And then I wrote a long treatment, eighty pages or something, literally in one week for what became Le Souffle au coeur" Malle was quick to point out that not everything in the film was strictly autobiographical, "[T]hings didn't happen to me the way they happened in the film. The accidental incest as described in the film never happened in real life. But the beginning of the film was pretty close to where I was at that age." Still, the subject matter had him uneasy until he read the script to another writer. ""Jean-Claude Carrière was here in the house at the time. He'd come to revise a play that he'd written. So the night after I'd finished, I read it to him. He said, 'But Louis, it's great, you must do it.' I was scared of it. I thought it was a little too close, too personal, too intimate. But the way I had dealt with it, which was already strongly indicated in the first text, was very much on a comedy level, which I liked very much. The way the mother and the son ended up in the incest scene, it was described as almost inevitable; when it took place it was an accident more than anything else. Actually, there was no guilt involved. I realized reading it to Jean-Claude and discussing it with him that there was something that was completely natural about it. Maybe that's why incest is so scary, why there is such a taboo about it, because it's so natural for maternal love to turn into something else. I realized that if I wanted to be honest with what I had written, I should go all the way. I came up with the idea that the boy would wake up, and obviously would be very disturbed, but the way he handled it was to go downstairs and sleep with the little girl he was flirting with in the scenes before. It was actually during the shooting that the last scene came to me. The scenes at the spa were shot at the end, and even during the shooting I was wondering, 'How can I end the story?' Then I thought: it must end with a laugh, with the surprise of the whole family being there when he comes back holding his shoes...It was very provocative, but I think a great way of ending the story – like a suspended ending, yet giving a clue to how they could handle what had happened." Michael Sragow wrote in his article, All in the Family, that Murmur of the Heart offers an unusually full and individualized characterization of a boy whose yearnings, sensitivities, and fantasies outstrip his personality – the sort of unformed figure that creators less bold, candid, or inventive than Malle would never dare to present as their surrogate." Murmur of the Heart earned Louis Malle an Academy Award nomination for "Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published" in 1973. It was also nominated for a Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971. Producer: Vincent Malle, Claude Nedjar Director: Louis Malle Screenplay: Louis Malle Cinematography: Ricardo Aronovich Film Editing: Suzanne Baron, Catherine Snopko, Solange Leprince Art Direction: Philippe Turlure Music: Gaston Freche, Charlie Parker, Henri Renaud Cast: Lea Massari (Clara Chevalier), Benoit Ferreux (Laurent Chevalier), Daniel Gelin (Charles Chevalier), Michael Lonsdale (Father Henri), Ave Ninchi (Augusta), Gila von Weitershausen (Freda). C-118m. Letterboxed. by Lorraine LoBianco Sources: Malle on Malle by Louis Malle All in the Family by Michael Sragow The Internet Movie Database

Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart on DVD


The term 'coming of age film' has come to mean any movie in which a young character discovers love or has a sexual encounter. It's associated mostly with raunchy comedies, and occasional 'sensitive' accounts of an idealistic youth's process of disillusionment.

Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart (Le souffle au coeur, 1971) is a vastly more complicated item. Its curious young hero refuses to be disillusioned by anything -- the bad habits of his brothers, his mixed-up family relationships, his own medical condition or the state of his country in 1954, suffering military defeat in Indochina. Young Laurent Chevalier's ultimately incestuous activities with his mother are obviously an affront to legal and moral rules of conduct. But in Malle's loving family portrait, it's best not to judge on outside appearances.

Synopsis: Dijon, 1954. Schoolboy Laurent Chevalier (Benoît Ferreux) has two rowdy older brothers who tease and steal money from their mother, the young and still-attractive Clara (Lea Massari). The father of the house is a proud but somewhat clueless gynecologist (Daniel Gélin) unaware that Clara steps out in the afternoons to see lovers. Laurent may seem to take the onset of sexual awareness in stride, but in this household the path through puberty is a confusing one: The brothers take Laurent to a roadhouse to meet a prostitute, while his mother encourages him to become more social with girls. But as the keeper of his mother's amorous secret, Laurent finds himself drawn mainly to her.

A description of Murmur of the Heart makes it sound as if Sin in all of its splendor had arrived in bourgeois 1950s France. Our young hero is a champion scholar and a jazz fan but he's also shoplifts, smokes, masturbates and plagues the house staff along with his two older and irrepressible brothers. Their respected father pays the bills but is left out of the crazy relationship between his younger Italian wife Clara and her sons. An outsider might conclude that her casual habits with them contribute to their delinquency. She calls Laurent by a pet Italian name and heavily favors him. The boy is initially crushed to find that she's unfaithful to his father but instead grows to worship his mother all the more. He proclaims himself to be her friend as well as her son and tells her that whatever she does is fine with him.

Laurent's physical heart irregularity is a cause for distress but is also a symptom of the nature of love: Many activities in the Chevalier household would be difficult to explain in a courtroom, but in this particular family we don't see the threat. Although the sons play wicked tricks on their elders and basic laws of propriety are broken in all directions, the basic family fabric isn't harmed.

Murmur of the Heart puts its extreme content into a context that encourages us to be non-judgmental. Young Laurent seems a sorry excuse for an altar boy until we meet his confessor and teacher Father Henri (Michael Lonsdale). The priest encourages Laurent's academic life but clearly has his own sexual problems relating to the boys in his care -- he definitely likes to touch Laurent's legs. Brothers Thomas and Marc torment the hired help and get away with murder whenever they have the house to themselves, and yet nobody seems to want them to behave better. Even father indulges their rude political comments at family dinner parties. Underneath the chaos the brothers are good guys; after giving Laurent a hard time for admiring Albert Camus, they openly compliment his academic achievements.

Director Louis Malle was noted for gravitating toward controversial sexual content involving children, as evidenced by the attention given to Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby. Murmur of the Heart provoked quite a fuss over its depiction of incest between mother and son, and yet the film treats the situation in as un-exploitative a manner as is conceivable. Laurent's mother is an Italian outsider from a less cultured background and her husband has little time for her. Her sensuality isn't an evil force but a natural component of her personality that can't be ignored. Young Laurent is already fixated on her in a way he doesn't understand. Their momentary physical affection can't be seen in black & white terms -- affection is what holds these people so strongly together.

In simple terms, Laurent's crush on his mother is something he has to get beyond, and he does. Their experience together is a mistake, but not something to obsess over. The film is about particular people and doesn't prescribe their experience for anyone else. As if refusing to accept the idea that crushing guilt and misery must accompany every transgression of moral laws, Murmur of the Heart ends on a wonderful note of harmony.

It's also wickedly funny, from the brothers' cocky attitudes to Laurent's obnoxious behavior at the St. Tropez clinic resort where he and his mother retreat for his cure. Marc urinates in his mother's sink and a drunken Laurent insults a group of women by calling their daughters lesbians. Malle's sympathetic direction insures that neither these minor outrages nor Laurent's sexual curiosity for his mother come off as raunchy or gratuitous. Laurent finally decides to go on the prowl in their hotel at 3 a.m.. Rejected by one sleepy, shocked girl, he calmly asks her for the room number of a second teenager, who is more accommodating!

Murmur of the Heart is a captivating emotional experience, told in a matter-of-fact way by a director genuinely fascinated by human behavior. The casting is inspired, with young Benoît Ferreux an unusually expressive young actor. Lea Massari is also very successful in a difficult role ... there's a broad gulf between this picture and the liberated sex comedies of stars like Laura Antonelli.

Louis Malle again proves himself a filmmaker without a fixed agenda or themes. Although the film presents a flawed priest it has no satirical aim, unlike Malle's earlier action spoof Viva Maria! with its cartoon-ish Catholic villains. A decade later his Au revoir les enfants would enshrine the Father Superior of a boy's school as an unimpeachable saint. For all the talk about the 70s being an era of liberal permissiveness, few of its pictures depict human sexuality as positively as this French gem. (See footnote below).

Criterion's DVD of Murmur of the Heart is a beautiful, sharp and accurately colored presentation of one of Louis Malle's finest films. The excellent soundtrack has snippets from young Laurent's favorite Jazz greats like Charlie Parker, the ones that, Laurent tells us, drink and use drugs to be such great artists. It's presented uncut and enhanced with a 1:66 aspect ratio.

Disc producer Kate Elmore also provides an insert booklet with a fine essay by critic Michael Sragow. The disc is available separately or in the pricey but excellent box set 3 Films by Louis Malle: Lacombe, Lucien and Au revoir les enfants. That box comes with an extra disc of supplements that include career and biographical features on the director, including an interview with his wife Candice Bergen.

For more information about Murmur of the Heart, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Murmur of the Heart, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

1. It is of course understandable that viewers informed that Murmur of the Heart deals with mother-son incest may choose not to see the film on principle. This reviewer found Murmur of the Heart inoffensive and genuinely sympathetic to human behavior without regard to specific rules of morality. By contrast, a truly offensive early 70s film was The Harrad Experiment, an exploitative adaptation of a book about an experimental school in which kids were encouraged to be sexually active. About 5% of Harrad is glib-speak about turning society's values around by embracing open sexuality, and the rest is the most insipid, smarmy sensationalism imaginable. Murmur of the Heart has nothing in common with this kind of movie; it doesn't condone or condemn anything.

Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart on DVD

The term 'coming of age film' has come to mean any movie in which a young character discovers love or has a sexual encounter. It's associated mostly with raunchy comedies, and occasional 'sensitive' accounts of an idealistic youth's process of disillusionment. Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart (Le souffle au coeur, 1971) is a vastly more complicated item. Its curious young hero refuses to be disillusioned by anything -- the bad habits of his brothers, his mixed-up family relationships, his own medical condition or the state of his country in 1954, suffering military defeat in Indochina. Young Laurent Chevalier's ultimately incestuous activities with his mother are obviously an affront to legal and moral rules of conduct. But in Malle's loving family portrait, it's best not to judge on outside appearances. Synopsis: Dijon, 1954. Schoolboy Laurent Chevalier (Benoît Ferreux) has two rowdy older brothers who tease and steal money from their mother, the young and still-attractive Clara (Lea Massari). The father of the house is a proud but somewhat clueless gynecologist (Daniel Gélin) unaware that Clara steps out in the afternoons to see lovers. Laurent may seem to take the onset of sexual awareness in stride, but in this household the path through puberty is a confusing one: The brothers take Laurent to a roadhouse to meet a prostitute, while his mother encourages him to become more social with girls. But as the keeper of his mother's amorous secret, Laurent finds himself drawn mainly to her. A description of Murmur of the Heart makes it sound as if Sin in all of its splendor had arrived in bourgeois 1950s France. Our young hero is a champion scholar and a jazz fan but he's also shoplifts, smokes, masturbates and plagues the house staff along with his two older and irrepressible brothers. Their respected father pays the bills but is left out of the crazy relationship between his younger Italian wife Clara and her sons. An outsider might conclude that her casual habits with them contribute to their delinquency. She calls Laurent by a pet Italian name and heavily favors him. The boy is initially crushed to find that she's unfaithful to his father but instead grows to worship his mother all the more. He proclaims himself to be her friend as well as her son and tells her that whatever she does is fine with him. Laurent's physical heart irregularity is a cause for distress but is also a symptom of the nature of love: Many activities in the Chevalier household would be difficult to explain in a courtroom, but in this particular family we don't see the threat. Although the sons play wicked tricks on their elders and basic laws of propriety are broken in all directions, the basic family fabric isn't harmed. Murmur of the Heart puts its extreme content into a context that encourages us to be non-judgmental. Young Laurent seems a sorry excuse for an altar boy until we meet his confessor and teacher Father Henri (Michael Lonsdale). The priest encourages Laurent's academic life but clearly has his own sexual problems relating to the boys in his care -- he definitely likes to touch Laurent's legs. Brothers Thomas and Marc torment the hired help and get away with murder whenever they have the house to themselves, and yet nobody seems to want them to behave better. Even father indulges their rude political comments at family dinner parties. Underneath the chaos the brothers are good guys; after giving Laurent a hard time for admiring Albert Camus, they openly compliment his academic achievements. Director Louis Malle was noted for gravitating toward controversial sexual content involving children, as evidenced by the attention given to Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby. Murmur of the Heart provoked quite a fuss over its depiction of incest between mother and son, and yet the film treats the situation in as un-exploitative a manner as is conceivable. Laurent's mother is an Italian outsider from a less cultured background and her husband has little time for her. Her sensuality isn't an evil force but a natural component of her personality that can't be ignored. Young Laurent is already fixated on her in a way he doesn't understand. Their momentary physical affection can't be seen in black & white terms -- affection is what holds these people so strongly together. In simple terms, Laurent's crush on his mother is something he has to get beyond, and he does. Their experience together is a mistake, but not something to obsess over. The film is about particular people and doesn't prescribe their experience for anyone else. As if refusing to accept the idea that crushing guilt and misery must accompany every transgression of moral laws, Murmur of the Heart ends on a wonderful note of harmony. It's also wickedly funny, from the brothers' cocky attitudes to Laurent's obnoxious behavior at the St. Tropez clinic resort where he and his mother retreat for his cure. Marc urinates in his mother's sink and a drunken Laurent insults a group of women by calling their daughters lesbians. Malle's sympathetic direction insures that neither these minor outrages nor Laurent's sexual curiosity for his mother come off as raunchy or gratuitous. Laurent finally decides to go on the prowl in their hotel at 3 a.m.. Rejected by one sleepy, shocked girl, he calmly asks her for the room number of a second teenager, who is more accommodating! Murmur of the Heart is a captivating emotional experience, told in a matter-of-fact way by a director genuinely fascinated by human behavior. The casting is inspired, with young Benoît Ferreux an unusually expressive young actor. Lea Massari is also very successful in a difficult role ... there's a broad gulf between this picture and the liberated sex comedies of stars like Laura Antonelli. Louis Malle again proves himself a filmmaker without a fixed agenda or themes. Although the film presents a flawed priest it has no satirical aim, unlike Malle's earlier action spoof Viva Maria! with its cartoon-ish Catholic villains. A decade later his Au revoir les enfants would enshrine the Father Superior of a boy's school as an unimpeachable saint. For all the talk about the 70s being an era of liberal permissiveness, few of its pictures depict human sexuality as positively as this French gem. (See footnote below). Criterion's DVD of Murmur of the Heart is a beautiful, sharp and accurately colored presentation of one of Louis Malle's finest films. The excellent soundtrack has snippets from young Laurent's favorite Jazz greats like Charlie Parker, the ones that, Laurent tells us, drink and use drugs to be such great artists. It's presented uncut and enhanced with a 1:66 aspect ratio. Disc producer Kate Elmore also provides an insert booklet with a fine essay by critic Michael Sragow. The disc is available separately or in the pricey but excellent box set 3 Films by Louis Malle: Lacombe, Lucien and Au revoir les enfants. That box comes with an extra disc of supplements that include career and biographical features on the director, including an interview with his wife Candice Bergen. For more information about Murmur of the Heart, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Murmur of the Heart, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson 1. It is of course understandable that viewers informed that Murmur of the Heart deals with mother-son incest may choose not to see the film on principle. This reviewer found Murmur of the Heart inoffensive and genuinely sympathetic to human behavior without regard to specific rules of morality. By contrast, a truly offensive early 70s film was The Harrad Experiment, an exploitative adaptation of a book about an experimental school in which kids were encouraged to be sexually active. About 5% of Harrad is glib-speak about turning society's values around by embracing open sexuality, and the rest is the most insipid, smarmy sensationalism imaginable. Murmur of the Heart has nothing in common with this kind of movie; it doesn't condone or condemn anything.

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Re-released in United States January 24, 1989

Re-released in United States March 17, 1989

Re-released in United States April 7, 1989

Released in United States on Video March 29, 1990

Re-released in United States on Video June 29, 1994

Released in United States October 16, 1971

Released in United States April 1981

Released in United States April 1988

Released in United States 1995

Shown at New York Film Festival October 16, 1971.

Shown at Louis Malle Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York City April 1988.

Re-released in Toronto March 16, 1990.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Re-released in United States January 24, 1989 (Los Angeles)

Re-released in United States March 17, 1989 (New York City)

Re-released in United States April 7, 1989 (Los Angeles)

Released in United States on Video March 29, 1990

Re-released in United States on Video June 29, 1994

Released in United States 1995 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade) as part of program "C'est Drole... Classic and Contemporary French Comedies" June 30 - August 10, 1995.)

Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (FilmEssay: The Best of Filmex) April 2-23, 1981.)

Released in United States April 1988 (Shown at Louis Malle Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York City April 1988.)

Released in United States October 16, 1971 (Shown at New York Film Festival October 16, 1971.)