Zazie dans le métro – The Criterion Collection #570 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
June 23, 2011 by Dennis Amith
Louis Malle has created numerous, wonderful films in his oeuvre, but “Zazie dans le métro” is a film that stands out because of its comedy, its absurdity, its chaotic nature and for its young starlet with a dirty mouth that surprised audiences in France back in 1960. Hilarious, intriguing and fun but also a statement on the absurdity of Parisian society at that time! Highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © Copyright NEF -1960. 2011 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Zazie dans le métro – The Criterion Collection #570
YEAR OF FILM: 1960
DURATION: 92 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Color, Monaural, French with English Subtitles, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio
COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: June 28, 2011
Directed by Louis Malle
Novel by Raymond Queneau, Louis Malle and Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Produced by Louis Malle, JEan-Francois Malle, Napoleon Murat
Music by Fiorenzo Carpi, Andre Pontin
Cinematography by Henri Raichi
Edited by Kenout Peltier
Production Design by Bernard Evein
Costume Design by Marc Doelnitz
Catherine Demongeot as Zazie
Philippe Noiret as Uncle Gabriel
Hubert Deschamps as Turandot
Carla Marlier as Albertine
Annie Fratellini as Mado
Vittorio Caprioli as Trouscaillon
Jacques Dufilho as Ferdinand Gredoux
Yvonne Clech as Madame Mouaque
Odette Piquet as Zazie’s mother
Nicolas Bataille as Fedor
Antoine Roblot as Charles
A brash and precocious ten-year-old (Catherine Demongeot) comes to Paris for a whirlwind weekend with her rakish uncle (Philippe Noiret); he and the viewer get more than they bargained for, however, in this anarchic comedy from Louis Malle, which rides roughshod over the City of Light. Based on a popular novel by Raymond Queneau that had been considered unadaptable, Malle’s audacious Zazie dans le métro, made with flair on the cusp of the French New Wave, is a bit of stream-of-consciousness slapstick, wall-to-wall with visual gags, editing tricks, and effects.
You often hear about novels that are not possible for a film adaptation. And for author Raymond Queneau’s successful 1959 novel “Zazie dans le métro”, who can portray a novel about a young girl who knows way too much for her age and is so inquisitive, but yet her perspective of the absurdity of adult Parisians?
Never to back down from a challenge, French filmmaker Louise Malle known for his popular films “The Lovers” and “Elevators to the Gallows” took on a film adaptation of “Zazie dans le métro”. A film which Malle would say it was a tribute to Charlie Chaplin and also a film that would lead to film experimentation with special effects and colorization.
And as for the film, the film would receive critical acclaim but also controversy as many parents thought the film was targeted towards children, and took their children to the film to find out quickly when the young 10-year-old Zazie speaks that the film is not for children.
For Louis Malle fans, many have wanted more of his films to be released by the Criterion Collection and sure enough, “Zazie dans le métro” and “Black Moon” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in June 2011.
“Zazie dans le métro” is a film that is not easy to describe, because it is a film that has to be experienced visually. Words to describe the film would not serve the film any justice because the enjoyment goes bar beyond the written words but what takes place on screen.
The film revolves around a young girl named Zazie (played by Catherine Demongeot) and she has come to Paris to stay briefly with her Uncle Gabriel (played by Philippe Noiret) as her mother has come to the city for another fling, with another man for a few days.
But when Uncle Gabriel meets young Zazie, he is shocked by her mouth. This is girl who speaks what she wants, how she wants and because of the way she was brought up, you can say her mouth is quite dirty.
Immediately when Gabriel and his friend Turandot try to introduce her to popular scenery in Paris, Zazie is quick to call them old farts and wants to see and ride on the metro. In fact, she tries to runaway and experience the metro but because the workers are on strike, the metro is closed.
As she is brought home, she meets Uncle Gabriel’s beautiful wife Albertine (played by Carla Marlier), but the truth is that her uncle is gay and a draq queen performer. One day as Gabriel oversleeps, Zazie begins her way of mischief, from doing things to upset the landlord (who is trying to keep his eye on the girl for Gabriel) but Zazie begins to pretend that the landlord is a child molester and let him be ridiculed by other adults in order for her to escape and do what she wants.
While walking around Paris, she runs into a older man, who wants to take her out. Is he a creep child molester? Is he a police man? Somehow, Zazie manages to get him to spend money for mussels and chips and also buying her a pair of blue jeans. But just when she gets him to do all that she wants, she runs away with her new pair of jeans in hand.
And as Zazie experiences France, causing trouble and encountering adults who are immature, unusual, creepy and literally giving her an opportunity to learn about adult behavior.
But for her Uncle Gabriel, he and his friends are not sure how they can handle Zazie as she is bit too much for them, especially with her dirty and absurd questions.
While in Paris for a few days, will Zazie ever see and ride the metro?
“Zazie dans le métro – The Criterion Collection #570” is presented in 1:33:1 aspect ratio. It’s important to note that the film was a big experimentation with color and filmmaking, especially special effects at that time. The film uses quite a bit of experimentation of color, unusual cuts, sped up film, etc. But for the most part, considering the film is 50-years-old, it looks great on Blu-ray!
I was actually pleased with the amount of detail, especially since this film has a vast color palette and a lot of outdoor scenes, colors are vibrant, skin tones are natural and brighter colors, especially the reds, really pop! I didn’t notice any banding or edge enhancement. Nor did I see any artifacts. I did notice at some points of film damage but they were quite brief and limited to a certain area for a few seconds. But “Zazie dans le métro” looks great on Blu-ray!
According to the Criterion Collection, this new HD digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm interpositive, thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Zazie dans le métro – The Criterion Collection #570” is presented in monaural French with English subtitles. Dialogue is clear and I detected no hissing, clicks or any audio problems at all.
According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the positive print soundtrack. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
“Zazie dans le métro – The Criterion Collection #570” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
- Louis Malle – (4:54) Featuring an excerpt from JT 19h15 from October 26, 1960. Malle is interviewed by Mario Beunat and talks about taking the challenge of making the film, how the film was dedicated to Charlie Chaplilna nd screened for him and his perspective of the movie.
- Catherine Demongeot – (7:35) An excerpt from “Cinq Colonnes Ala”, journalists Jean-Noel Ray and Pierre Dumaget interview Catherine and her parents (March 4, 1960).
- Raymond Queneau – Featuring two interviews with the original author of Raymone Queneau for “Zazie dans le métro”. “Lectures Por Tous” (Feb. 4, 1959; 9:20) and “En Francais Dans Le Texte” (March 24, 1961; 5:52).
- Le Paris de Zazie – (14:57) A short documentary shot in 2000 by “Zazie dans le métro” assistant director Philipe Collin who revisits the locations of where the film was shot and talks about various scenes and how they were shot, the artistic look of the film, the characters and more.
- Jean-Paul Rappeneau – (10:00) Writer/collaborator Jean-Paul Rappeneau talks about working with Louis Malle on”Zazie dans le métro”.
- William Klein – (13:06) An audio interview featuring Louis Malle’s artistic consultant William Klein talks about working on “Zazie dans le métro”.
- Original Theatrical Trailer – (2:15)
“Zazie dans le métro – The Criterion Collection #570” comes with a 20-page booklet featuring the following essay “Girl Trouble” by Ginette Vincendeau.
“Zazie dans le métro” is one of those films that one can’t describe because it was meant to be seen visually.
One can be described is that this 1960 film was surprising in many levels because it featured a young girl with a mouth that would surprise people because she talks about sexuality, dirty men, homosexuality so openly and doesn’t relent. Like many children who are inquisitive and keep asking questions, in “Zazie dans le métro”, the questions are blunt. “Are you a homosexual?”, “Are you sexually repressed?”, “Are you a dirty man that goes after young girls?”, etc.
Zazie is a product of her upbringing and its a statement of Paris culture back then that filmmaker Louis Malle wanted to tackle, that is a comedy that showcases the absurdity and chaotic nature of Parisians at the time.
And while Zazie and the absurdity of the adult characters is a big part of the story that can be described, its what takes place in the film that can not.
In one scene, when Zazie is trying to hide and escape from a man who spends his money buying her mussels, fries and blue jeans, the chase scene resembles one of those quick-paced hilarious Benny Hill skits. Characters looking like they are running quickly while the camera focuses on their face, but then the camera goes through several jump cuts, speeds up quickly, reverts back to normal.
In some scenes, there is a little trickery as one conversation between two men, Malle quickly changes one scene with the man in black face for a quick second and very few frames.
And while this style is funny at first, it does become a little tiring but it’s all about how Malle manages to make things darker as the film progresses, that becomes quite intriguing.
Also, the look and feel of the film is rather interesting as well. In the special features, you learn that advertising screens were utilized to block out things that Malle didn’t want to be shown in the film and so while Zazie is running or walking, you will notice these artistic walls behind her.
Possibly one of the most jarring shots and something that you will never ever see in a film again, is the shot of actor Philippe Noiret (Uncle Gabriel) doing these close to the edge, about to fall off high above the Eiffel Tower. In fact, one scene shows Noiret on top of an elevator rising up on the tower. It’s amazing how these shots were done, especially the freedom that was given to the filmmakers to shoot those scenes but anyone who is acrophobic, even for me, those shots made feel a bit uneasy because those playful shots made you feel that he could fall off the Eiffel Tower any minute.
But the efficacy of “Zazie dans le métro” lies within its structure and how different it was from the Nouvelle Vague films at that time. Speaking of the French New Wave, even Zazie has some words to say about it during the film.
While I have not read the novel “Zazie dans le métro”, I do know that author Raymond Queneau was quite appreciative of the film adaptation and even Charlie Chaplin who Malle has dedicated the film to, watched the film in French no subtitles and enjoyed it.
The Blu-ray release of “Zazie dans le métro” features a good number of special features but probably the one that I found to be quite intriguing was Phillipe Collin revisiting the locations in 2005 and talking about how the shots were done. But also to see the interview with young Catherine Demongeut from 1960 as the journalists wonder if she is anything like her character and grilling her parents on playing such a part. I found it pretty cool to see the parents calm and collected, especially Catherine while the journalists were really trying to make them frustrated or angry.
While watching “Zazie dans le métro”, I often wondered how both Louis Malle even Raymond Queneau would feel about how society is today, especially for Malle who wanted to take on the absurdity of adults in Paris at the time. And as for Zazie, it made me wonder how much worse children are today as the words coming out of Zazie’s mouth was considered dirty, once again, if only Malle, Queneau and society then would see how children, a product of the way they were raised, are learning some things a bit too quickly than they should have at a younger age.
But put yourself in the viewers shoes back in 1960 and you can see how this film could be seen as artistic, controversial, hilarious, enjoyable, absurd, chaotic, you name it… there are many words to describe this film and for me, I found it to be entertaining, fun and one of those films where a filmmaker does something different and unique and comedic but yet is able to make a statement on society.
“Zazie dans le métro” is a film that many Louis Malle fans have been waiting for and now it’s here! This Blu-ray release is recommended!
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