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Louis Malle (The Lovers, Au revoir les enfants) meets Lewis Carroll in this bizarre and bewitching trip down the rabbit hole. After skirting the horrors of an unidentified war being waged in an anonymous countryside, a beautiful young woman (Cathryn Harrison) takes refuge in a remote farmhouse, where she becomes embroiled in the surreal domestic odyssey of a mysterious family. Evocatively shot by cinematographer Sven Nykvist (Cries and Whispers, Fanny and Alexander), Black Moon is a Freudian tale of adolescent sexuality set in a postapocalyptic world of shifting identities and talking animals. It is one of Malle’s most experimental films and a cinematic daydream like no other.
French writer-director Louis Malle attracted American moviegoers in the late 1970s and early '80s with Pretty Baby, Atlantic City, and My Dinner with André, but those looking for signs of things to come will be hard-pressed to find them in Black Moon, their immediate predecessor. Variously described as a "mythological fairy tale" (by the director himself) and "an elaborate surrealist fantasy," this is a film with no story line, little dialogue (some of which is delivered by animals), and much strangeness. In what might be the director's broad interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, we follow 15-year-old Lily (Cathryn Harrison, granddaughter of the British actor Rex Harrison) as she drives Malle's "wild, archaic landscape," where a war pitting men and women soldiers against one another is in full swing; the wild ride ends near a decrepit country mansion occupied by a pair of androgynous, silent siblings (Alexandra Stewart and Andy Warhol regular Joe Dallesandro, both also called Lily), their bedridden old mother (a vivid performance by Therese Giehse, by far the most accomplished actor of the bunch), and a menagerie of beasts, including a pig in a highchair, a cat on a piano keyboard, a talking unicorn (hey, it's surrealism), as well as gaggles of naked children gamboling about with the sheep. That's where the remainder of the action, such as it is, unfolds, as young Lily tries to find her place in what Malle calls "an irrational world." Her efforts are largely in vain, and so perhaps will many viewers' be--it's not for nothing that this was Malle's least commercially successful effort. And if there doesn't seem to be much of a point, well, perhaps that's the point.
The overall presentation is up to the Criterion Collection's usual high standards, including a new high-definition digital transfer (the better to appreciate the cinematography by Ingmar Bergman veteran Sven Nykvist), a booklet with an essay about the movie, and a brief interview with the director (in French; the film itself is in English, but this release also contains a version dubbed in French). --Sam Graham
Archival interview with director Louis Malle
Gallery of behind-the-scenes photos
Alternate French-dubbed soundtrack
Original theatrical trailer
New and improved English subtitle translation
PLUS: A new essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau
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As someone who has seen almost every Malle film and is a professed fan, I was excited about seeing this one, but midstream, I realized I was in for a huge letdown, and by the film's end, I was flabbergasted seeing the final scene approaching, the outcome of which would leave me perplexed, pissed, and feeling cinematically cheated by a good friend. There's more to be said about this film and the director's effort, but I simply cannot bring myself to care enough to do so - it might only succeed in making you want to see this flick and, unless you're a completist or a cinema sadist, what's the point? It seems most directors hit a wall at some point during the 70's for a variety of reasons we don't have time to delve into here. What could have been Lewis Carroll by way of Luis Bunuel as seen through the eyes of Louis Malle ends up a non-narrative mess that's not even character driven with little plot, no development or back-story, no emotional content and no ending. Sure, as arthouse junkies we can ruminate on this or that to make believe that there's something deeper there when in fact there probably isn't, so let's call it a day and declare it for what it probably is - Malle's most disappointing work, but one that pushed him into another chapter in his dynamic career during the 80's and beyond. So maybe we have this morsel of manna to be grateful for, in spite of the overarching 'Black Moon' that hangs above us when we indulge in this convoluted overindulgence. All great artists falter from time to time... but that doesn't diminish their greatness if they can rekindle the fire that made them memorable in the first place.
Was there ever a plot,not that I could decipher
. I put it on to skim through it,ended up watching it all. So many weird and dysfunction characters,yet somehow they were necessary. The unicorn,just wasn't right but it worked. It's all crazy,but you have to watch it. Then say to yourself,did I just watch that
Trust me,sit down,empty your mind,let yourself be driven along,a beer or two may help,but it's good fun