BLACK MOON(director/writer: Louis Malle; screenwriters: Ghislain Uhry/Joyce Bunuel; cinematographer: Sven Nykvist; editor: Suzanne Baron; music: Diego Masson; cast: Cathryn Harrison (Lily), Therese Giehse (Old Lady), Alexandra Stewart (Sister Lily), Joe Dallesandro (Brother Lily); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Claude Nejar; New Yorker Films; 1975-France/Italy/Germany-in English)
“Naturally such a radical and opaque film, like none ever done before or since, was a commercial flop because the general public didn’t know what to make of it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A weird post-apocalypse film that’s dreamlike, and about the breakdown in society and revolutionary new concepts about what’s right and wrong. Naturally such a radical and opaque film, like none ever done before or since, was a commercial flop because the general public didn’t know what to make of it. It costars the 15-year-old English girl Cathryn Harrison, granddaughter of Rex, and Andy Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro. Iconoclastic director Louis Malle (“Calcutta”/”Murmur of the Heart”/”Elevator to the Gallows”) co-writes it with Luis Buñuel’s daughter-in-law Joyce and Ghislain Uhry. It follows along with Malle’s attempt not to be pigeonholed in terms of his style, as this film is much different from his others. The director has said the film is a mythological fairy-tale taking place in the near future. I found it to be an hysterical but absorbing Alice-in-Wonderland surrealist fantasy film, that updates that tale into modern terms where men and women are in combat (it was filmed during the woman’s lib movement) and they both coexist by forming a friendship with talking rats and wise unicorns. The title refers in astrological terms to the time of chaos that comes before some cataclysmic change.

The film open with a fedora and trench coat wearing young blonde-haired innocent girl named Lily (Cathryn Harrison) on the road in her sports car trying to run away from the reality of a world at war between men and women. In her hurry to escape, she makes road kill out of a badger and then escapes a male army patrol who just mowed down a captured group of female soldiers. The young girl escapes past women soldiers torturing a downed male soldier and to a serene hidden country cottage (another world) where a dotty bedridden old hag (Therese Giehse, died shortly after production ended) lives upstairs and talks with a rat in a gibberish language in which they seem to understand each other and the old hag stays in contact with the world through her two-way radio. On this farm live the old hag’s grown children, the incestuous brother and sister both named Lily (Alexandra Stewart–Malle’s companion at the time–& Joe Dallesandro), and there are an unexplained large number of small naked children herding pigs or dining in the cottage that come into view from time to time. There doesn’t seem to be any more plot than this, as every scene is played out allegorically and quite frankly not too much of it makes much sense as reality-based. But I dug the wise remark of the unicorn, who tells the young girl “The most beautiful things in the world are the most useless, like lilies.” Now something like that made sense, as the film veers from some brilliant moments that ring a bell to much social satire nonsense that underscores a violent world where hypocrisy and errant love rule the day. The young heroine seemingly went down a rabbit’s hole and found in this other world that things are far from perfect, as she’s often bullied, ignored, threatened, jeered at, and seems lost in wonder that unicorns are real.

The director said in an interview with David Bartholomew for Cinefantastique magazine that he wanted to shoot the film in his house and as a result “the film was shot in and around Malle’s 200-year-old own house and 225-acre estate located in the nearly unspoiled wild of the Dordogne valley in Quercy, near Cahors. The estate…is called, significantly, “Le Coual,” or “The Crow’s Call.”

It’s a baffling movie that clamors to be understood on its own terms and is visually beautiful (shot by Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist), and furthermore I believe it has something well worth pondering about a new paradise-like society that has yet to be corrupted by the past or itself. In a lawless place, as represented by the farmhouse, one has a chance to make a better world. How one does it is left for another pic.

REVIEWED ON 10/24/2007 GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”