Zazie in the Underground (“Zazie dans le métro”), by Louis Malle
Released in 1960 and based on the novel by Raymond Queneau, Louis Malle’s third feature film depicts the fanciful adventures of Zazie, a young girl who dreams of taking the metro as she loses herself in the streets of Paris.
Louis Malle, eternal wild child
Born on 30th October 1932, Louis Malle came from a comfortable background. During the German Occupation, he attended several boarding schools and first discovered cameras at the age of 14. His films take an amoral perspective on the absurdity of the world, not hesitating to denounce the hypocrisy of bourgeois values, describe an incestuous romance or analyse the circumstances which lead a man interested in joining the Resistance to collaborate with Gestapo. They often caused controversy which would eventually drive him to flee to the United States for more than 10 years. From his return to France in 1987 until his death in 1995, Louis Malle was praised as a master of his art thanks to Goodbye, Children (“Au revoir les enfants") (1987), May Fools (“Milou en mai") (1990) and Damage (“Fatale”) (1992).
A zany journey through the capital
Zazie is incredibly disappointed when she notices, upon arriving in Paris for the first time, that the metro is closed due to a strike. Entrusted to her uncle Gabriel for a few days, this feisty 9-year-old girl wants just one thing: to take the underground.
For an hour and a half, viewers follow the child as she wanders through the City of Light. She meets colourful characters along the way, finding herself involved in increasingly fantastical situations.
A many-layered spoof
Louis Malle describes his adaptation of Raymond Queneau’s book as “an exercise in style”. This book, published in 1959, uses surreal stylings to play on the tropes of the coming-of-age novel. Less than a year later, its adaptation for the cinema coincided with the emergence of the New Wave, a movement that also played with the rules of cinema. Full of Buster Keaton-style slapstick comedy, the film is a series of sketches punctuated by omissions, gaps in continuity and illogical events which reflect the bizarre nature of the adult world.
An avant-garde work
While Zazie (“Zazie dans le métro”) by Raymond Queneau is considered an iconic work of twentieth century French literature, Louis Malle's film received mixed responses. First and foremost an avant-garde work, the public was surprised by the fact that the film wasn’t intended specifically for family audiences. Impossible to categorise and unique in the history of cinema, it won the admiration of major figures such as François Truffaut, Eugène Ionesco and Charlie Chaplin.
Zazie in the Underground is distributed internationally by the Institut français. The Institut français has a catalogue of over 2,400 titles enabling its cultural network and partners to screen French films around the world.