Cast & Crew
While her mother is away with her latest lover, 11-year-old Zazie comes to Paris to spend 3 days with her Uncle Gabriel. The child's scandalous language and disrespectful attitude toward her elders quickly convinces Gabriel that this will not be a routine visit. When Zazie learns that she will not be able to ride the Metro because of a labor strike, she blames all adults for the situation and decides to make the best of her vacation. After a wild excursion in a taxi, she romps through the flea market and gets her uncle to take her to the Eiffel Tower. They become entangled in a group of tourists, and Zazie races down the tower steps while her uncle grabs a balloon and parachutes to the street. Together again, they get embroiled in a traffic jam and a mad chase through the streets of the city. That night her uncle takes Zazie to the nightclub where he works. Once more a brawl breaks out, and Zazie escapes with her uncle's wife, Albertine. When the Metro strike is over, Zazie's wish to ride the train is at last fulfilled, but, exhausted from the day's events, she sleeps all the way home. Returned to her mother, who asks her what she did in Paris, Zazie replies that she has grown older.
Jean-marie De Coninck
Nouvelles Editions De Films
Zazie Dans Le Metro
Even so, nothing in Malle's filmography, or in the French New Wave in general, could prep you for the departure that Zazie dans le Metro (1960) represents it's like a film from Mars, a very *French* Mars. It bears no discernible relation to his previous two features (nor the pioneering documentary made with and about Jacques Cousteau in 1956, The Silent World), and amid the Wave's DIY burst of indie creativity it seems ludicrously out of place. Shot in effervescent color while the movement's other films were indelibly black-&-white, and seemingly employing the entirety of a caught-in-amber 1960 Paris, Malle's movie is an anarchist farce, baldly, bravely approximating the worldview of its titular heroine, a spritely, irreverent, vandalizing brat (an eleven-year-old tomboy named Catherine Demongeot) as she visits her uncle (Philippe Noiret) in Paris while her mother departs for a romantic weekend.
Zazie's destructive, carefree asocial escapades make up what passes for a plot; her uncle and an identity-swapping policeman (Vittorio Caprioli) pursue her across the city (or sometimes forget to, overwhelmed as they occasionally are with romantic distractions), as she, a country girl, is determined to ride the Metro trains whether they're striking or not. Based on an impish novel by Raymond Queneau, Malle's film uses the whimsical semi-story as license to break the bank in terms of absurdist schtick and high-flying nonsense. Virtually no old-school gag-trick is left out: silent-comedy fast motion, gobbledygook language play (rather impressively translated into pidgin English in the newly restored subtitles), in-camera sleight-of-hand, splats of comic-book animation, musical impromptus, non sequitur cutaways, social satire, surrealistic touches (random shoes sold at a market play music when Zazie picks them up), even a climactic food fight-slash-set-demolition. It's a frenetic chaos, often evoking the Keystone Kops but actually more often a mash-up between the Three Stooges and Jacques Tati, as imagined by Tex Avery.
The odd thing about Zazie is that it is rarely funny despite its Tasmanian Devil-like efforts toward silliness, confrontational disrespect and loopy character excess (or, perhaps, because of them), there's precious little visual or textual wit at work. There may be something more serious, more daring, going on. There is a conscientious effort in Zazie at facing down scandalous ideas with a kid's guileless smile sex is on everyone's minds and molestation of the heroine is a constant threat (and a constant suspicion), albeit one that never dampens Zazie's spirits. In one breathtakingly taste-violating scene, Zazie recounts to Caprioli's cop over a messy plate of mussels how her father came to be killed by her mother alone with the girl, the faceless patriarch was drunk and under the impression that the mother was gone for a long shopping trip, a scenario that we're led to believe will lead to a pedophilic episode. But as Zazie begins to tell what happened next, throwing mussel shells into the sauce and splattering the jacket of her fussy companion, Malle runs her dialogue backwards, and only makes it intelligible again at the end of the story, in which the mother returns, catches the bastard, and kills him with an axe.
Perhaps Zazie isn't even intended as a comedy it just uses the tropes of screen comedy (overuses them, you could say) to express a child's perspective, a point of view that may be inherently joyful but isn't necessarily funny, and which sees the world of adults as an assbackwards carnival of pointless propriety, sexually motivated idiocy and self-importance. The film makes light of sexual deviance (of various kinds), not merely because it is French (Malle made his first authentic international splash in 1971 with Murmur of the Heart, in which a moment of mother-son incest serves as the story's warm-hearted resolution), but because from a child's position sex is often preposterous, scary nonsense, fruitlessly pursued at all costs by grown-ups who become foolish in its grip. Seen this way, the elan that bubbles out of Malle's film is not only genuine but heroic.
The film is also, on the most superficial level, a time-trip back to the sizzling Paris of the late 1950s (never photographed as pristinely as here), and back to the heyday of imported foreign films in the U.S., when there were so many sexually frank European films on the market that the American middle-class could organically arrive at stereotypical ideas about what's "French" (or "Swedish," or "Italian"). Zazie was one of those movies, a viewing experience that helped erect a pop myth in our heads about woozily horny Frenchmen, supercool French women (here, the cat-eyed Carla Marlier), a perpetually sunny Paris where no one has a real job, and a France where the pursuit of pleasure is the highest calling. Ironically, of course, the point of Malle's movie is that this vision belongs only to a fidgety, troublemaking preadolescent. Reality is something else altogether.
Producer: Louis Malle
Director: Louis Malle
Screenplay: Raymond Queneau (novel), Louis Malle, Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Cinematography: Henri Raichi
Film Editing: Kenout Peltier
Art Direction: Bernard Evein
Music: Fiorenzo Carpi, Andre Pontin
Cast: Catherine Demongeot (Zazie), Philippe Noiret (Uncle Gabriel), Hubert Deschamps (Turandot), Carla Marlier (Albertine), Annie Fratellini (Mado), Vittorio Caprioli (Trouscaillon).
by Michael Atkinson
Zazie Dans Le Metro
Filmed on location in Paris. Opened in Paris in October 1960 as Zazie dans le Métro; running time: 90 min. Also known as Zazie in the Underground.