ou 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.
“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.
“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.
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!