A look at Louis Malle's films

D.c. High Lights


September 09, 2005|By Michael Sragow

JUSTICE POTTER STEWART uttered his famous statement that he wouldn't attempt to define obscenity, "But I know it when I see it," when the Supreme Court overturned the obscenity conviction of an Ohio cinema that had played Louis Malle's precocious 1958 erotic masterpiece, The Lovers. That movie comes to Washington in a fresh new print this fall when AFI Silver, the National Gallery of Art and La Maison Francaise present Risk and Reinvention: The Cinema of Louis Malle, a near-complete retrospective of the director's groundbreaking, energizing movies. The series includes such milestones as the jazzy, inventive thriller Elevator to the Gallows (1957); a crazy urban farce, Zazie (1959); the F. Scott Fitzgerald-like tragedy The Fire Within (1963); the audacious, sensual domestic comedy about incest, Murmur of the Heart (1971); and Lacombe, Lucien (1973), a stunningly intelligent examination of a yokel who becomes a Gestapo thug.

Ranging from May Fools (1990), a light-comic variation on Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, to an inspired film of Andre Gregory's workshop production, Vanya on 42nd Street (1994), Malle's oeuvre was sophisticated and earthy, frolicsome and stinging, spirited and eclectic - like its vital, witty creator, who died too young, at 63, in 1995.

For program information, call the National Gallery of Art, 202-842-6799; AFI Silver, 301-495-6720; or La Maison Francaise, 202-944-6090

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