Murmur of the Heart (1971)

Murmur of the Heart (1971)

“Everyone has to discover love for himself.”

In 1950s France, a teenager (Benoît Ferreux) with rowdy older brothers (Fabien Ferreux and Marc Winocourt) experiences a heart murmur while struggling to relate to his gynecologist father (Daniel Gélin) and developing a growing crush on his sexually promiscuous mother (Léa Massari).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • French Films
  • Incest and Incestuous Undertones
  • Louis Malle Films
  • Virginity

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “rude comedy” (I’m not so sure it’s a comedy) by Louis Malle about “incestuous feelings between [a] sexually curious 14-year-old… and his beautiful, sensuous Italian mother” is primarily concerned with “drawing a scathing portrait of the French bourgeoisie.” He argues that “in Malle’s customary uncontroversial way,” the “comedy [sic] advances [the] novel idea that the best way to show rejection of [the] bourgeoisie’s shackles is to break its sexual rules.” Maybe so — but there isn’t anything inherently amusing about this tale of sexual exploration and complicated mother-child dynamics.

While this film has quite a few fans who appreciate the “natural,” non-sensationalized way in which Ferreux and Massari grow increasingly affectionate with one another, I’ll admit I’m not among its admirers. Its best moments show the authenticity (based in large part on Malle’s own childhood) of Ferreux attempting to learn from a kind-hearted prostitute (Gila von Weitershausen) his brothers have taken him to:

… and navigating adolescent passes at girls once he’s at a sanitorium for his heart condition. Otherwise, frankly, the film feels manipulative; knowing the film’s taboo topic makes one simply wait with unease to see how it plays out.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Benoît Ferreux as Laurent

Must See?
No, though of course Malle fans will want to check it out.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Murmur of the Heart (1971)

  1. Rewatch (7/7/22). Not must-see but Malle completists will want to see it.

    First, I’ll comment on Peary’s view of the film as a ‘comedy’ – and I agree that the film is not a comedy. However, over the years, I have observed Peary’s *many* reactions to films which, either in part or in full, delve into or cater to the minds and sexual interests of heterosexual boys and men. There are certainly many such films which are more obviously intended as comedies. But there are also films (like this Malle film) which can be erroneously *perceived* as comedies simply because of the way (as I see it) straight guys are more likely to ‘approach’ the material. Women and gay men (like myself) could very easily have a rather somewhat different perception.

    That said… Malle (who I tend to like as a director overall) has a very nice eye, ear and heart for detail so this is a very nicely observed coming-of-age story, which was made a bit more controversial for its tail-end suggestion of incest (thankfully, it’s only a suggestion).

    It moves along easily enough but it’s certainly episodic and the bulk of the events of the film aren’t particularly unique overall.

    The film’s parting attitude / image is soooo French.

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