Murmur of the Heart ★★★★½

There’s no childhood anymore.

Google "coming of age movies" and you will likely come across such films as Rebel Without A Cause, The Breakfast Club, and The Spectacular Now. Nothing wrong with those movies; in fact, some of them hold very special places in my heart. I assure you, none of those films could have prepared me for this, Murmur of the Heart.

Director Louis Malle has here constructed the telling of one boy's journey out of adolescence and into something not quite manhood, yet well beyond innocence. Laurent is a fifteen year old with two older brothers, a distant father, and one very affectionate mother who is, admittedly, not the mother type. The story extends beyond the realm of convention for this type of film, following Laurent into the most intimate and frankly uncomfortable scenarios which ultimately contribute the most to who he will become as a young man.

Technically, this is tops. The cinematography and general use of color is pleasing, and Malle's camera strikes me with more energy than it did in The Fire Within, which is appropriate considering a youth will be more jumpy and alive than a cynic on the verge of suicide. What I'm saying is, Malle understands the state of mind of his protaganist, and he communicates this visually, not least with the occasionally hectic editing. Laurent is curious about everything he finds and remains largely uninhibited. It's the small things, like cigarettes and pranks on the parents, that feel like rebellion and therefore offer confidence to tackle bigger temptations.

It is no surprise that the acting is duly impressive. Three movies in, I have observed from Malle a knack for drawing strong takes from his actors, and the young Benoît Ferreux is convincing and unforgettable as Laurent, though Lea Massari takes the cake as his mother Clara.

Speaking of the mother, I am brought to a curious impasse as to how I feel about the film's presentation of her. She herself concedes that she is probably not a good mother because she is not quick to guard her youngest son's innocence. For instance, when she discovers her son has read a scandalous BDSM novel, she disregards the issue, declaring it best to encounter life as it comes. Does the film approve of reckless parenting by making Clara into such a likeable character? I am unsure, though I do believe she is a poor parent nonetheless. Still, she at least loves her son more than her husband does, and there is something to be said for that. Perhaps I will come to more of a conclusion upon later viewings, which I will certainly have.

All in all, Murmur of the Heart is a boundary-crossing film that I would label coming-of-age, were it not for the fact that it so well transcends the genre. So, coming-of-age, character study, intimate domestic drama, whatever you want to call it, just remember to call it Great.