Murmur of the Heart

Even with a touch of incest, Louis Malle’s 1971 Murmur of the Heart is a charming, candid look at the pleasures and pains of adolescence and the special bond between a mother and her son.

Malle is an expert explorer of his own youth. Murmur of the Heart revolves around 14-year-old Laurent, the gawky, sensitive son of a prosperous but slightly buffoonish Dijon gynecologist. Laurent has two precocious older brothers who read Camus and patronize the local brothel. Although he’s distracted by his brothers’ antics, Laurent has eyes only for his high-spirited, sensual Italian mother, beautifully played by Lea Massari.

Any plot summary, however, neglects the film’s casual richness: the delightful Charlie Parker bebop score; the brothers’ wicked teasing of the fuddy-duddyish family retainer; the skewering of many small bourgeois hypocrisies. Almost everything about this coming-of-age story rings true, and Malle avoids any heavy-handed explanations of family behavior.

The film’s one problem is the easy resolution at the end in which mother and son show no ill effects from their little secret and the family is preserved, even glorified. But perhaps that’s just my American puritanism asserting itself. A-

Murmur of the Heart
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