I am not up to date on my Louis Malle. I saw a couple of his art-house successes without actually remembering them. When I was a kid, I saw Viva Maria! at the local theater. And I am a big fan of Atlantic City, especially Burt Lancaster, speaking one of my all-time favorite movie lines: “The Atlantic Ocean was something, then. Yes, you should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”
Zazie dans le métro is very much of a piece with other French New Wave movies of the time, and serves as a good reminder that Malle was a part of that movement, albeit more peripheral than central. This is certainly his most New Wave-ish film, at least within my limited knowledge of his work. The location shooting in Paris, the jump cuts and generally carefree tone, the use of actors who, to me at least, were lesser known (most notably young Catherine Demongeot in the title role), all give Zazie an off-the-cuff feel. Even Philippe Noiret, who eventually became known worldwide, was at the beginning of his career in this movie.
The film’s tone marks it off from what an American version might look like. Zazie is an eleven-year-old girl spending a weekend in Paris with her uncle, and she wastes no time getting into trouble. It’s a time-honored tradition on sitcoms to focus on a young rapscallion who is full of life but ultimately lovable, but Zazie is pretty much a brat, more like Junior the Mean Widdle Kid than Arnold from The Facts of Life. She may not be intentionally harmful, but she is aware beyond her years of what grownups want to do with her, and she’s not having it. She’s the perfect character for the New Wave style, anarchic, and the action is filmed like a cartoon rather than a realistic movie. She’s The Road Runner, and everyone else is The Coyote.
The film runs out of steam eventually, even though it’s only 93 minutes, but Demongeot is admittedly irresistible ... more than once, she reminded me of my grandson. Remarkably, it is not on the TSPDT Top 1000 list. 8/10.