Murmur of the Heart ★★★★

In many ways, Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart seems like most of the other coming-of-age films, especially the European ones, which tend to start younger than Hollywood's equivalents. It features the usual adolescent introduction to adult vices, and in such a personal way that it's no surprise to discover that Malle wrote it as a partial autobiography. However, even though the tone of the film is not at all critical of its touchy narrative, it dually serves as a comment on the coming-of-age-genre, and perhaps even the carelessness of the French bourgeoisie's libertine approach to transitioning children into adulthood. Benoît Ferreux stars as Laurent, an exceedingly bright 15-year-old boy who is nevertheless still very much a child. Unlike his rambunctious and troublesome older brothers, Laurent is sensitive, and deeply attached to his doting, sensuous Italian mother (Lea Massari) -- although neither she nor Laurent's detached doctor father offer much in the way of direct or positive parental influence. With his friends, Laurent shoplifts and smokes cigarettes without censure; with his brothers, Laurent drinks wine, fools around with girls, and even visits a whorehouse, but the worst repercussions are mildly humiliating pranks at the hands of other kids and maybe a chiding from an exasperated housekeeper. In the form of a bawdy teen comedy, Murmur of the Heart paints an unsettling picture of the effects of unmanaged puberty; what's the natural outcome of catapulting children into sex when their idea of love is still focused on their mother? It's all very casually and yet poignantly done by Malle, with a tenderly damaged performance by Massari, and lingers powerfully in hindsight.