Black Moon, Blu-ray (1975/2011)
Director: Louis Malle
Cast: Cathryn Harrison, Therese Giehse, Joe Dallesandro
Cinematographer: Sven Nykvist
Studio: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection 571 [6/28/11]
Video: 1.66:1 letterboxed for 16:9 color 1080p HD
Audio: English or French PCM Mono
Extras: Archival video interview with Malle, Galley of behind-the-scenes stills, Original theatrical trailer, Illustrated booklet with essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau
Length: 100 minutes
Sort of a contemporary French version of Alice in Wonderland, Black Moon was shot by Malle in the same rural area of France where he had completed the year prior his excellent Lacombe, Lucien. That story about a teenager during the WWII German occupation of France somehow morphed into this bizarre tale of a young woman mysteriously stuck in a strange family’s home in the midst of a terrible battle between men and women. Having Bunuel’s daughter as the main script writer obviously colored the surrealistic goings-on in the film. There are several scenes involving lots of sheep, a favorite ploy of Bunuel’s, and there is even a closeup of ants crawling on a piece of cheese meant to deliberately reference Un Chien Andalou. The star of several of Andy Warhol’s films – Joe Dallesandro – plays a mute young man on the farm; perfect since he was so bad at dialog with Warhol.
It might be helpful to view the French TV interview with Louis Malle prior to seeing the very strange film, which has also been compared to Pan’s Labryinth. Malle says in the interview that anytime the script seemed to be building up to an actual plot, he crossed it out. It would be pointless to give a summary of the film, since it is intended to not make sense. The many Freudian aspects of the tale come to a fore around the girl’s interest in the fat and rather ugly unicorn in the farm yard. Part of her interest seems to be that the unicorn actually talks to her in a semi-rational fashion – in between quoting poetry – whereas the humans at the remote farmhouse are basically mute. There is also a little pink pig who complains loudly when the girl drinks his milk (in fact milk is an idée fixe in the entire film) and a rat who is the longtime friend of the old woman in the bed – who squeaks an unintelligible grousing sort of speech. The old woman does speak to someone via a professional radio transmitter next to her bed, and seems to be more in touch with the outside world than anyone else at the farm. Speaking of speech, it is interesting that Malle says although he dubbed the soundtrack in French, he prefers the English version – probably because the film was shot in English. He next moved to Hollywood, where he directed such fine films as Pretty Baby and Atlantic City.
The cinematography, with the touch of Bergman’s cinematographer, is lovely and plays up the emphasis on various aspects of nature. The domestic lives of this very strange family are included in this cinematic daydream. As with many European films, one must get used to long shots of characters with not much happening, which seems to be more prolonged due to there being almost no dialog in the film except from the animals. Certainly interesting and worth seeing in my estimation, but it certainly won’t appeal to everyone.
— John Sunier