Zazie dans le métro
A brash and precocious ten-year-old (Catherine Demongeot) comes to Paris for a whirlwind weekend with her rakish uncle (Philippe Noiret); he and the viewer get more than they bargained for, however, in this anarchic comedy from Louis Malle, which rides roughshod over the City of Light. Based on a popular novel by Raymond Queneau that had been considered unadaptable, Malle’s audacious Zazie dans le metro, made with flair on the cusp of the French New Wave, is a bit of stream-of-consciousness slapstick, wall-to-wall with visual gags, editing tricks, and effects.
Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le metro comes to Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc, presented with a new 1080p/24hz high definition transfer.
There was a little sting of disappointment here that I wasn’t able to fully get past. Zazie is a colourful film but I was a ultimately let down by this aspect. Despite some moments where colours do pop and come off a little vibrant the film has a largely drab look. Skin tones also lean more towards yellow and blacks show some crushing. Minor wear-and-tear is also evident, with marks and tiny scratches making appearances here and there.
Other aspects of the transfer are excellent on the other hand. The image is crisp and clean with well-defined edges and clearly presented fine details. Very fine patterns, like the cross hatch pattern found on Noiret’s jacket, do present some minor shimmering effects here and there but other than that the digital presentation doesn’t present any other noticeable issues.
In all it’s fairly decent but not as strong as I was probably hoping.
The lossless French linear PCM mono track is a bit weak and can present some edgy music, but overall it’s clean, with no background noise. Dialogue sounds clear and articulate, and the film’s many sound effects don’t present any problems of note. Average and adequate for the film.
Zazie dans le metro comes with a glut of material, though keeping true with every other Malle title Criterion has released we yet again get no audio commentary. But we do get plenty of archival material, starting with a 5-minute interview with director Louis Malle from an October 1960 episode of JT 19h15. Malle talks about Zazie, which had just been released, and what his desires were, primarily to do with it what writer Raymond Queneau accomplished with the novel; where Queneau used his novel to critique conventional novels and language, Malle wanted to use the film adaptation to critique cinema and the language of cinema. He talks about other themes in the film and goes over Charlie Chaplin’s reaction to the film. Short but fairly enlightening interview and a shame it isn’t longer.
Criterion also found an interview with the film’s young star Catherine Demongeot from a March 1960 episode of Cinq colonnes a la une. Less than 8-minutes it’s actually quite amusing as the interviewer comes off fairly condescending to the young actress, though I doubt it’s intentional. He asks her a lot about the Zazie character and being allowed to “misbehave” on set as though she wouldn’t be able to discern that she wasn’t just playing a character, which she obviously can. This portion of the interview is charming more than anything else because of Demongeot’s reactions but the most intriguing part comes when her parents are on screen talking about how they feel about their daughter playing the “brat” that’s in the film.
We then get two interviews with author Raymond Queneau. The first is a 9-minute segment from a February 1959 episode of Lectures pour tous with the author talking about his novel Zazie dans le metro and what he was trying to accomplish with the use of language, and also goes into a little detail about the history of the novel. He then expands out somewhat and talks about the characters that spread over his work. A 6-minute excerpt from En Française dans le texte has the author talk again a little about the novel but the focus is on what he finds funny and his sense of humour as well as the state of comedy in post-war France. He’s modest and friendly with a dry wit and comes off engaging. If there was one feature lacking from this release it’s more on the novel but this section covers it decently enough.
Le Paris de Zazie is a 15-minute interview/quais-documentary featuring assistant director Philippe Collin. It’s somewhat advertised as a feature that revisits locations from the film but this isn’t entirely the case. There’s a few moments where we are taken to a couple locations used in the film but the feature is primarily made up of clips from the film and Collin sitting on a bench recalling the shoot. He recalls a lot of the technical details and the surprisingly simple process of getting permits to shoot where they did (he admits that nowadays it would probably be impossible to get permission to shoot at the Eifel Tower and do what they did.) The most interesting portion comes when he talks about the cartoon influences and how they appear in the film, with Tex Avery and Tom & Jerry being the primary influences (interestingly enough Collin’s film school thesis was about Avery.) I was expecting something else but it’s still rather good, despite all of the clips.
Also from 2005 is an interview with screenwriter Jean-Paul Rappeneau. For 10-minutes he talks about coming on board the project, touches on the adaptation, and then goes on to talk about the film and the techniques Malle used throughout. Some repeated info but having another firsthand account on the film’s production is welcome.
Criterion then includes one exclusive item, a 13-minute audio interview with director William Klein who is credited as the art director for the film though was brought on originally as a co-director. While he more or less still worked as a co-director, offering input and helping in the look of the film, it’s apparent here that this was still Malle’s film. The audio is a little rough and sounds as though it was recorded over the phone but it’s a great account about the film, Malle, and French cinema at the time. The audio plays over a photo of Malle and Klein sitting together.
The disc closes with a 2-minute theatrical trailer.
In the booklet Ginette Vincendeau provides an essay about the film, the source novel, and Malle. It’s also amusing to learn that parents haven’t really changed: French parents dragged their children out of theaters upon realizing that this wasn’t necessarily a children’s film, automatically assuming it was a kids film.
Time wise there technically isn’t a much in features but I was fairly satisfied with what we get. Maybe more of a comparison between the book and film would have been welcome, and I think a scholarly audio commentary may have worked, but as a whole the supplements here cover the film quite well.
I still feel a little let down by the picture but it’s certainly sufficient, and I was probably expecting something that wasn’t possible or even true to the original intentions of the film. But I think those who are particularly fond of this film will be still pleased with it and the supplements are all very satisfying.