Louis Malle’s Black Moon is said to have been inspired by Lewis Carroll’s tales of
in Wonderland. In Black Moon, the humans act like animals and the animals take on human characteristics, including the ability to communicate. The film’s narrative also involves a beautiful young light-haired heroine who finds her way into a dream-like world of inexplicable oddities, but this is where the similarities between the two stories seems to end. Although many have found Freudian themes of budding sexuality within the film, I somehow doubt that any one person could claim to explain every single moment of the film. Perhaps not even Malle himself. Alice
The nonsensical quality of the film seems to be somewhat the point, as it was in Carroll’s tale as well. The film begins in a world which doesn’t make sense, torn apart by a war which Malle calls the ultimate Civil War. Men and women fight on opposing sides, and we join our heroine Lily (Cathryn Harrison) as she drives along a country road in disguise. Stopped at a checkpoint, Lily watches as a line of women soldiers are executed, and is nearly killed as well when the soldier removes her cap, exposing her long blond hair.
Forced to abandon her car, Lily begins to wander through the wilderness in a dream-like state. Often she simply lies on the ground watching creatures pass around her. Some of the animals are completely out of place in the landscape, while others are entirely mythical. Following a unicorn, Lily arrives at a country home which has nude feral children roaming the grounds with a massive pig and an elderly woman (Thérèse Giehse) holed up in one of the bedrooms. Trying to communicate with this woman is nearly impossible, as she prefers to speak to a rat or her CB radio instead.
The arrival of two more characters does nothing to clarify the situation for Lily, or the audience for that matter. The old lady’s two children arrive; a young man and a young woman, both strikingly beautiful and claiming to be named Lily as well. Their behavior is just as bizarre as their mother, and at one point the daughter even breast feeds her own mother.
Understanding Black Moon may not be the easiest task, but it is a remarkably watchable fantasy film in the same vein as Last Year at Marienbad. The film’s entertainment value is helped a great deal by Sven Nykvist’s surreal cinematography. This is a visual film, with most dialogue grunted in like animal sounds. The few scenes of dialogue don’t seem to go anywhere anyway.
The Blu-ray release offers a spectacular high definition presentation of this visual feast, digitally restored and featuring an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The special features include an archival video with Malle discussing the film, as well as a gallery of production photography. There is also a alternate French-dubbed soundtrack, though even Malle is said to have preferred the English-language version. The disc also comes with a booklet insert with a brief and extremely safe essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau about the film and its meanings.
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