Oscar Movies: Murmur of the Heart (1971): Louis Malle’s Masterpiece

(Le Souffle au Coeur)

French director Louis Malle’s masterpiece, Murmur of the Heart is a fresh, intelligent, affectionately comic coming-of-age tale, set in the French bourgeoisie. Focusing on the relationship between a precocious 14 year-old boy and his sensuous and loving Italian-born mother, the film was ahead of its time in its honesty and straightforward approach to children’s sexuality.

The film became a cause celebre when it was first released, due to the incestuous scene, but in later years, the film has been re-evaluated as more of a satire of the French bourgeois life than a shocking tale about mother-son incest.

Set in 1954 (when Malle was 22), the film is based on the director’s reminiscences of his early adolescence, as he noted in a 1980s interview: “Relationships with my tow brothers and my parents, school, sexual awakening, passion for jazz, a heart murmur which sent me to a spa with my mother when I was fourteen. Scenes like the visit to the whorehouse, spinach tennis at the family table, of the Corot painting knifed in front of my father comes straight from memory.”

Like other Malle films, “Murmur of the Heart” boasts terrific score (Charlie Parker’ jazz) and meticulous attention to detail, with rich reconstruction of the period’s manners, design, and clothes. Beautifully directed, Murmur of the Heart features great performances by Lea Massari as the mother and Benoit Ferreux as her sensitive son.

Louis Malle is one of the best directors in international cinema today. Among his many good films are: The Lovers, starring Jeanne Moreau, Atlantic City, starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon, Pretty Baby, with Susan Sarandon and the young Brooke Shields, and the autobiographical Au Revoir Les Enfants.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Story and Screenplay: Louis Malle

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Story and Screenplay was Jeremy Lerner for The Candidate.

Running Time: 118 minutes


Lea Massari
Michel Lonsdale