Tag Archives: Louis Malle

Pretty Baby (1978)

pretty baby

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s robbing the cradle.

Based on actual accounts of prostitutes living and working in the Storyville area of New Orleans in 1917 the film details the life of Violet (Brooke Shields) the 12 year-old daughter of Hattie (Susan Sarandon) who works as a prostitute and eventually breaks her daughter into the business. Bellocq (Keith Carradine) is a photographer who comes to the brothel to take portraits of the women. He falls in love with the young Violet and the two eventually marry.

Louis Malle’s American film debut is fabulous. He takes a daring subject matter and makes it real and vivid. Sven Nykvist’s cinematography is so detailed that you almost think that you are looking at painted portraits of the era. Malle employs a leisurely European pace to the proceedings, which nicely reflects the slower era. The emphasis is on nuance and in that regard it is brilliant making the viewer feel that they are right there with characters and observing the daily realities around them. The story is certainly shocking, but somehow a strong human element remains making it fascinating and revealing.

The strongest moment comes when a group of middle-aged men bid on Violet to see who will get the honors to take her virginity. Having the camera pan the men’s eager faces, some of whom look to be nearing 50 and even 60 is visually potent as is Violet’s ambivalent expression as she stands on a chair in front of them. The fact that it is approached in a non-sensationalistic matter and instead more like as a slice-of-life makes it all the more disturbing and compelling.

Shields is fabulous. Her facial expressions as she observes the decadence around her is what really makes the movie. She shows a great awareness and creates an intriguing character that cannot read and write and yet acts like having sex with a middle-aged man is ‘no big deal’ and working as a prostitute is completely ‘normal’ way of life. Watching her shift between being very child-like to very jaded is fascinating. I really think this is an actress that is much more talented than she is given credit for and although many other actresses auditioned for the part including Tatum O’Neal, Meg Tilly, Geena Davis, and Diane Lane I really felt the movie wouldn’t have been as effective with them in the role. Shields is really exceptional and should have netted the Oscar, or at least have been nominated.

Sarandon is terrific as her hardened mother and unfortunately is not seen enough, but manages to light up every scene that she is in nonetheless. Singer Frances Faye is also quite good as the head of the brothel. Her old, tired face brings out the difficult, cold lifestyle. Her best moment comes when she is seen staring in a catatonic state into space while everyone else has left the place and all the belongings are being carried out.

Carradine is okay in a restrained performance as a character that is more educated and refined than the rest, which makes for some interesting interactions. The fact that this man ends up getting emotionally stung by such a young girl despite being so much more sophisticated and mature ends up being one of the film’s most definitive moments.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 5, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Louis Malle

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

my dinner with andre

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Talking can be interesting.

 
Rare is a film that can be categorized as being daring by what it doesn’t do than by what it does yet this is a film that fits that instance. This is a story about two old friends (Wallace Shawn, Andre Gregory) who meet at a fancy restaurant and have a long, pleasant conversation. That’s it. No big revelations, no cutaways, no side story, no fights, no jokes, and certainly no added cinematic effects. The men merely have the same type of conversation that two educated men on the same intellectual level might also have. Then after two hours they call it a night and go home.

Does this mean that this is a poor or boring movie? No, not really. Sometimes the best directing is just the guts to stick with a concept that is unusual. That is what Louis Malle does here and you have to give him credit. On its own simple terms it actually does succeed. One’s mind certainly does wander at times, but somehow you never lose complete interest. The simple framing and editing are actually effective.

The two stars are competent for what they are doing yet they do not seem to be the best of actors. At times they seem to be simply mouthing their lines and there is no nuance in their delivery. Gregory has a nice deep, resonate voice that almost seems like a radio announcers. He does most of the talking so at least he is pleasant to the ears. Shawn is the exact opposite. His voice is screechy and annoying. Yet he does supply an engaging voice-over narrative at the beginning, which is so fun you wished they had kept it going throughout.

The idea of following a real, genuine conversation is a good one. Sometimes it is interesting to observe all the threads a conversation between any group of people takes. However the conversation here isn’t real. It is clearly scripted out and that hurts it. The first hour is especially poor. It consists mainly of Gregory talking about some wild, fantastical experiences of his. It comes-of as forced and extended. Having some cutaways throughout his talking would have helped because a lot of what he talks about is very visual.

The second hour is better because Shawn gets more involved and they have a real discussion. The topics are more expansive and philosophical. They range from how one perceives reality to the very essence of our being. Of course anyone with some existential friends could have the same conversation, but at least it makes the film more stimulating.

In the end this is an interesting experiment that halfway succeeds. It would have helped had the two men, who seem to be playing themselves anyway, been allowed to have a more natural and impromptu discussion. Even adding a few more people into the mix wouldn’t have hurt. They could have also given it just a little bit more of a visual flair. Although watching the very good way that they listen to one another is a sight in itself. Their listening skills are so good that it almost seems unreal. It is unfortunate that everyone can’t have these same types of skills

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Louis Malle

Studio: New Yorker Films

Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video