Louis Malle

Louis Malle's overlooked gem, May Fools (1990)

Louis Malle's overlooked gem, May Fools (1990)

  • Born:  1932
  • Died:  1995
  • Rank:  75
  • Score:  529.25
  • Awards:  2 BAFTAs / NSFC / LAFC  (for Foreign Film)
  • Nominations:  Oscar / DGA / 3 BAFTAs / GG
  • Feature Films:  19
  • Best:  Au Revoir, Les Enfants
  • Worst:  Black Moon

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. Au Revoir, Les Enfants – 1987
  2. Atlantic City – 1980
  3. Elevator to the Gallows – 1958
  4. May Fools – 1990
  5. Murmur of the Heart – 1971

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1961 – 5th – Elevator to the Gallows
  • 1978 – 7th – Pretty Baby
  • 1981 – 5th – Atlantic City
  • 1987 – 5th – Au Revoir, Les Enfants

Louis Malle is remembered for many reasons.  He was Candace Bergen’s husband who died in the mid’90’s.  He made a number of documentaries on human life, which were the subject of one of the first Criterion Eclipse Box Sets.  He made Pretty Baby, the film where a 12 year old Brooke Shields played a whore.  He defied the Gene Siskel barometer of how interesting a movie is (“Is it more interesting than a documentary of the same actors eating dinner?” Siskel used to ask – a good question until My Dinner With Andre, which is the actors eating dinner).  How should he be remembered?

He should be remembered as a successful and innovative director.  He started out with the French New Wave, making his feature film debut with the brilliant Elevator to the Gallows.  Throughout the sixties he made films that varied in quality, but were always interesting.  Then in the 70’s, he made two highly acclaimed films (Murmur of the Heart and Lacombe, Lucien) before coming to the states and creating controversy while continuing his brilliant career.  Pretty Baby is often remembered for the controversy, which overlooks how good a film it is and he followed that with Atlantic City, one of the most critically acclaimed films of the 80’s.  He made Andre, the mediocre Crackers and the underrated Alamo Bay before returning to his childhood (literally and figuratively) with his best film, Au Revoir, Les Enfants.  Three more films followed before his death from lymphoma: the witty May Fools, the sexy Damage and the interesting Vanya on 42nd Street, a kind of return to Andre.

May Fools – #8 film of 1990

Why write about May Fools with films like Elevator, Atlantic City, Andre, Au Revoir and Damage to write about?  Precisely because people do write about those other films and they don’t write about May Fools.  Coming out at a time when I was becoming very interested in film, in between the widely praised Au Revoir and the widely discussed Damage, May Fools almost didn’t exist.  I never heard of it until years later, first starting this project.

In one sense May Fools is an English film – the kind of film that takes place at the country house with the upper class away from the city.  But it has a sense of humor that is distinctly French.  In fact, I don’t think anyone other than a French director could have made this film.

We have here a family gathered together at a country house because the matriarch has died.  What starts out as a funeral becomes a wake then becomes something more.  Because the family has issues they need to deal with.  And because random characters will come upon the scene.  And we get almost a taste of Luis Bunuel as the family decides to flee the house and head out further into the country.  Why?  Because it’s not just May, it is May of 1968, a month with hugh ramifications to the French audience that would have been watching and they fear that rioters are headed to the house.  And this film is funny in precisely that way that French films can be.  It’s not a coincidence that the France is the only non English speaking country that has found wide international success with its comedies.  Because the French have a peculiar way of looking at the world.  Perhaps that is why Bunuel made so many of his last films in French.  Because they would understand.  And he would have understood this film.  And enjoyed it, I would like to think.