In 1975, another Louis, this one branded with the surname of Malle, delved into a pit of weirdness, fumbling the peculiar syllables in the word Strange, then hurtled the results full-throttle towards the screen. Only this Louis, rather than discovering a congress of outlandish ants under a rock marked Society, manufactured both ants and rocks, engraving the interplay between the two: Black Moon.
One of the French New Wave’s most enjoyable jazz connoisseurs, Louis Malle takes a dip into the surreal with this film. With a predilection for fairy tales under one arm, and a resolve to look beyond the present under the other, Malle creates an odd mix of apocalyptic conflict and phantasmagoric imagery. The story, if one can discern such a thing, concerns a feisty nubile named Lily who, forced off the beaten track by a horde of militants, comes across a house in the countryside inhabited by a deranged, bed-ridden matriarch, her adult son and daughter, and a gang of nude children. Also giving curvature to this filmic sculpture is a panoply of recurring animals – including an elusive unicorn that Lily frequently gives chase to – and the hidden murmurs of some mysterious war taking place in the background.
The most obvious point of reference is Lewis Carroll’s
It’s not for no reason that I use the word nubile in the context of Lily, for she adheres to the sensual undertones that have come to mark the
The classy surrealism of Bunuel can also be glimpsed through Malle’s crazy world. While 1990’s Milou en mai offers a more subtle tribute to Bunuel, the paradigmatic Bunuelian reversal is found in Black Moon: finding herself in need of sustenance, the aforementioned wacky matriarch beckons her daughter, who proceeds to appease the yearning by breast-feeding her mother.
Unsurprisingly, Black Moon was a considerable failure upon its release. “Not enough Miles Davis!” bawled the mob still stuck on the elevator to the gallows. “Too many shots of Morrissey and Warhol’s favourite son Joe Dallesandro pretending to do farm-labour!” wailed cineastes from here to
But how can one not love the playful madness displayed on screen? Lily skipping around, allowing the viewer to project their own sense of bewilderment into her? It is no less than a joy to witness the possibilities of a unicorn politic coming to fruition, or to see the late Sven (buddy of Bergman) Nykvist’s marvellous cinematography, or those glorious French landscapes oft-seen in films such as Godard’s Weekend and Les Carabiniers.
With Black Moon, Malle delivers a superb impression of dreamlike reality, experimenting with every symbolic trope that might have the good fortune to dawn in the fibre of his mind, while marrying the preposterousness of Alice in Wonderland with the finest helping of New Wave angst. This is indeed Louis Malle’s weird weekend.