Le Souffle Au Coeur (1971)

Original Title : Souffle au coeur, Le
Director : Louis Malle
Writer : Louis Malle
Genre : Drama
Country : France
Language : French
Producer : Vincent Malle, Claude Nedjar
Music : Gaston Frèche
Charlie Parker
Henri Renaud
Photography : Ricardo Aronovich
Distributor : Criterion Collection, The, Orion Classics, Orion Home Video, Palomar Pictures International, Video Film Express
IMDB ID : 0067778
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poster for "Le Souffle Au Coeur" by Louis Malle (1971)
Le Souffle Au Coeur (1971) - Louis Malle


Lea Massari Clara Chevalier
Benoît Ferreux Laurent Chevalier
Daniel Gélin Charles Chevalier
Michael Lonsdale Father Henri
Ave Ninchi Augusta
Gila von Weitershausen Freda (the prostitute)
Fabien Ferreux Thomas
Marc Winocourt Marc
Micheline Bona Aunt Claudine
Henri Poirier Uncle Leonce
Liliane Sorval Fernande
Corinne Kersten Daphne
Eric Walter 
François Werner Hubert
René Bouloc Man at Bastille Day party


This is a jolly coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old boy named Laurent Chevalier who is growing up in bourgeois surroundings in Dijon, France. This is France in the mid-1950s rather than America in the 1990s. Thus, Laurent is unharmed by events which would irreparably shatter the self-esteem of a modern American adolescent: he gets drunk, he smokes, he has sex, he is smothered by his mother, he is ignored by his father, a priest makes a pass at him, he gets rheumatoid fever, etc. There's enough scandalous behavior in this film to make 100 made-for-TV movies, and yet this is a very happy and oddly innocent tale.


Seven years before PRETTY BABY (1978), Malle directed another controversial film about the sexual awakening of a precocious teenager - in this case, a boy. As with the later film, Malle's elegant handling - suffused with feeling and humor, even irreverence - brings no portentous message and certainly no sensationalism to this theme (which culminates in an incestuous relationship between the boy and his attractive, middle-aged mother!). Even so, the complicity that goes on here between the boy and select members of his family seems to me to be wishful thinking on Malle's part (who also wrote the script) more than anything else: the boy's sexual initiation is organized by his promiscuous elder brothers and, apart from the mother-son "liaison" - which happens when she's intoxicated and is, in any case, shot in the dark and quite sensitively handled by all concerned - he's compliant of her various affairs, which actually brings him to confess to her that he never loved his father and consequently doubts his own parentage!The acting by the entire cast - veterans and newcomers alike - is wonderful, still, watching professionals like Lea Massari (in perhaps her most important role apart from the girl who goes missing in Antonioni's L¡,¦,AVVENTURA [1960]), Daniel Gelin (who has aged quite a bit from his 50s heyday!), Michel Lonsdale (as a potentially paedophile priest!) and Ave Ninchi (as the children's long-suffering, heavy-set Italian maid) is especially gratifying. The score by several jazz performers, including Charlie Parker, provides perfect accompaniment to the film.The only extra on the stand-alone Criterion release (it's also available as part of a 4-Disc Set with two other Malle films which revolve around children - LACOMBE LUCIEN [1974] and AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS [1987]) - is the film's theatrical trailer which, amusingly, manages to incorporate in its publicity several of the most famous titles of the French New Wave!
poster for "Le Souffle Au Coeur"
661 x 886
Le Souffle Au Coeur (1971) - Louis Malle