You’ll Know It When You See It

Les amants ([The Lovers] Louis Malle, 1958)

In the opening credits of Malle’s second feature film there is an engraving of the Map of Tendre, an imaginary land on which can be reaced the route to true love. So, here we have Jeanne Tournier (Jeanne Moreau), in a difficult and encouragedly open marriage with newspaper proprieter Henri (Alain Cuny) in Dijon, who regularly visits her friend Maggy (Judith Magre) in Paris so she can hang out with polo-playing hunt Raoul Flores (José Luis de Vilallonga). When Maggy and Raoul are invited for a meal in Dijon — against Jeanne’s better judgment — she breaks down in the sticks and is picked up by archaeologist Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory). Whilst you’d expect her to slip into Raoul’s room, it is Bernard who snags her attention.

This was released just before the French New Wave and appears in a crisp black and white, especially the magical night scenes in the third quarter of the film. At times I felt a twinger of the river sequence in Charles Laughton’s directorial masterpiece, Night of the Hunter (1955). The camera, meanwhile loves Moreau, although she is repeated reflected in mirrors. The film doesn’t seem to judge her character, although at times you might judge her — oscillating between impatient and not getting the hell on with it. It anticipates the adulteries of Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur ([Happiness], 1965), where I also expected Judgment to wreak havoc. But this is how the other half live — and it’s not entirely clear whether Bernard will fund her lifestyle.

Apparently this caused no end of kerfuffle when released in the States, leading to a pornography trial — although I’d be sceptical that anyone could get their rocks off to this. Indeed, Justice Potter Stewart ruled it wasn’t pornographic at the Supreme Court, saying that he knew hardcore porn when he saw it.

I wonder what he had seen?

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