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  • Ravi Swami

"Zazie Dans Le Metro", Dir: Louis Malle, 1960

"Zazie Dans Le Metro" is adapted from a novel written by Raymond Queneau following its' success in the previous year, and Louis Malle's adaptation follows the plot of a young girl, Zazie, who has been left in the charge of her uncle, Gabriel, played by Philippe Noiret, while her rather irresponsible and selfish mother, Jeanne, goes off with her lover.

As with many films I've watched over lockdown, a big draw is views of cities that have changed - or not - as the case may be, in the course of time, and here the other "star" of the film is the Paris of 1960, which retains many of the locations seen in the film to the present day such as the Passage Jouffroy in the Paris Opera district.

Zazie (Catherine Demongeot) herself is a bit of a disfunctional tearaway who wastes no time in trying to explore Paris herself after settling in with her uncle and his wife and this forms the central theme of the film.

Filmed for the most part "under-cranked" to impart a sense of the old black and white Mack Sennett comedies, "Zazie" is a madcap tour of the city as Gabriel tries to keep track of the wayward, street smart and often foul-mouthed Zazie as gets herself into some hair-raising scrapes. All she is interested in is riding the Metro but unfortunately a strike has closed all the stations and she is forced to wander the streets herself, which puts her at risk from predatory adult men, in this case in the form of "Turandot" (Hubert Deschamps), a protean character in the sense that he reappears throughout the film in different guises and as different characters, first as a dodgy man with an unhealthy interest in Zazie and later as a detective investigating cases of missing children and we are never sure which is his real identity.

This scenario lends the comedic tone a dark undercurrent of menace as Zazie navigates the city herself, alongside the rather ambiguous line of work of her uncle (Noiret) who is a drag artist in a Paris nightclub by night with the implication that he is, in Zazie's words, an "homosessuel". The film's dialogue, like the book, is littered with such mispronunciations which are apparently a commentary on "neo French" and are retained for comedic effect.

At one point Gabriel takes trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower whilst in pursuit of Zazie and Noiret performs a series of eye-watering stunts during what is a song and dance sequence whilst fending off some female German tourists that have taken an interest in him.

Turandot in the meantime becomes enamored first by Gabriel's beautiful wife (Carla Marlier) and later becomes the object of attention for a lusty widow who gets dragged into the Keystone Cops style chase to keep up with Zazie, who manages to outwit everyone.

Eventually all the characters converge on a restaurant following the show that Gabriel is appearing in and ends when there is a riot and the restaurant is systematically destroyed by the customers, a sequence which again seems to refer back to old Hollywood comedies featuring custard pie fights but taken one step further.

The film ends with Zazie reunited with her mother at the station as her uncle wearily hands her over after a crazy weekend, and she admits that she has grown up in the short time that she has spent in Paris while her mother is not impressed by her under-performing lover.

"Zazie Dans Le Metro" is an entertaining a slightly bonkers "adventure" that somehow manages to take in some quite dark themes at a hare-brain pace - ambiguities like the fact that Gabriel's wife is responsible for preparing his drag costumes whilst appearing to acknowledge that he might indeed be homosexual are glossed over as a result of the pace of the film, so they feel very matter of fact - a case of, this is the reality so let's move on, but without removing the impact of the darker segments, even though they are framed as comedic.

"Zazie Dans Le Metro", Dir: Louis Malle, 1960

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