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Review: Zazie in the metro (1960)

Director: Louis Malle | 89 minutes | comedy, | Actors: Catherine Demongeot, , , , Annie Fratellini, , , , Odette Piquet, Nicolas Bataille, Antoine Roblot, , Jaques Gheusi, , , Little Bara, , , Jean de Coninck, Paul Vally, Jean-Yves Bouvier, , , Jacqueline Doyen, Arlette Balkis, Alegrina, , , Simone Duhart, Max Desrau, Claude Confertès, ,

Zazie is a ten-year-old cheeky monkey who goes to stay with her uncle in Paris. That uncle earns his money as a Spanish dancer while his wife sews the costumes together. Vague? We write in France 1960, the time of the Nouvelle Vague and the experiments of Godard, Resnais and Truffaut. Although Louis Malle did not count himself part of the Nouvelle Vague, his “Zazie dans le Metro” can certainly be classified under this movement.

This is certainly not because of the story, or the lack of it. It is mainly the far-reaching cinematic experiments that make Zazie a genre-bound work. Accelerated shots, stop motion photography, weird jump cuts, deliberate discontinuities and jokes like that. It’s a style that suits the small main character well: bouncy, unstoppable and sometimes difficult to follow. They are stylistic devices that are nothing special to a contemporary spectator, but were once sensational.

The fate of these form experiments is often unfortunate. If the experiments fail, oblivion or the Museum of Cinematographic Curiosities awaits. If the experiments succeed, other filmmakers will soon integrate the successful elements into their own work. In later films these stylistic means will then make a much less forced impression than in the original, where means and end were often the same.

Does this turn ‘Zazie dans le Metro’ into a film that is of no use to a contemporary audience? Well no. Although the effects and tricks seem a bit forced and you also want to stick little Zazie behind the wallpaper every now and then, this film is still very worthwhile for three reasons. Firstly, as an example of the kind of film that helped to free the videographers from the rigid style rules that prevailed before. Secondly, because it is a film by the great Louis Malle, and one of the more important in his oeuvre.

But the main reason to watch “Zazie dans le Metro” is because it’s just a really nice movie. Although the story really doesn’t make any sense, the content is very entertaining. The characters are colorful and the adventures they experience are always worth following. There is a lot to laugh about and for the true film connoisseur, there are references to genres, films and stars. In short, despite its predictable unpredictability and its artificial effects, “Zazie dans le Metro” is still well worth a visit.

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