Thursday, January 5, 2012

Black Moon (1975) A Film of A Different Color

At the recent Criterion 50% off sale, I grabbed a title that had interested me since its first announcement from Criterion.  Louis Malle's 1975 Alice in Wonderland-esque dream film follows the escapades of a young woman fleeing from a literal battle of the sexes.  What follows is one of the more beautiful and compelling films of its kind.
The first fifteen minutes of this film are some of the most riveting cinema I've seen in a long time.  We begin with the lingering shot of a badger, meandering its way across a barren, country road, when an oncoming car makes short work of it.  The car is driven by a wispily pretty young woman played by Cathryn Harrison.  She turns on the car radio and stops on the Love Duet from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.  Suddenly, she is in the middle of a war zone.  She is stopped at a roadblock of all male soldiers, who line up and execute several female soldiers.  The men discover her gender and she barely escapes being shot.  Soon, after seeing more horrors of war, she arrives at a strange house and everything changes.

The film from there has truly gone down the rabbit hole.  Nothing in the rest of the film seems to make much sense, except to describe it as a child like dream.  A talking unicorn, crying flowers and an infantile grandmother who talks to a mouse and works a ham radio.  Malle himself said he was simply working through stream of consciousness.  However, films of that nature can greatly suffer from stagnation.  Not so with Black Moon, there is much going on this film and it is all strange and engaging.  Since there is barely any dialogue a thick atmosphere of mystery quickly surrounds the house and those in it.  The same Wagner piece is heard again during a hauntingly beautiful nighttime recital, this time sung by two children.  The main character, Lily, tries furiously to keep up on the piano, blowing the sheet music open in a manner quite childlike.

I'd say this film is almost like a coming of age story for the heroine, but its certainly much more than that and there is some logic to the dreamlike images towards the end of the film.  Such as the brother and sister characters fighting in the dirt as we see the male and female soldiers encroaching on the property.  However, these kinds of films are best left to the audience's own interpretations.  If you're in a particularly adventurous and strange mood, I'd recommend this one of a kind gem, which also boasts stunning cinematography from Sven Nykvist, Ingmar Bergman's DP of choice.

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