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At last available on DVD, Black Moon is perhaps Louis Malle’s least known work but according to the director himself, his most personal. The most accurate description one can give of this bizarre film is that it is the visual experience of watching someone else’s unconscious dream on celluloid, which in fact it is.
Filmed entirely at Louis Malle’s manor estate in the Dordogne Valley, the director first conceived of Black Moon while filming Lecombe Lucien with German actress Therese Giehse. Malle had mentioned to Giehse that he wanted her to star in a future project of his to which the actress replied there should be no dialogue in the film. Malle considered it odd but would think about it. He later had a dream with Giehse and a few other dreams, which he jotted down as ideas for the film.
Malle would later mention that he wanted to create the film equivalent of subconscious surrealist art. He succeeds admirably because as one watches this dystopian nod to Lewis Carroll it truly is as if one has entered someone else’s bizarre sleeping dream.
The movie begins with 15 or 16 year old Lily (played by Rex Harrison’s granddaughter, Cathryn) running over a badger while driving down a country road. As she steps out of her car to inspect we hear gunfire in the distance. We soon realize there is a small-scale civil war between men and women. When Lily is stopped at a roadblock she witnesses male soldiers executing female soldiers. Lily manages to escape by driving off the road and into some undergrowth but not before a soldier shoots out her windshield.
Lily then finds herself in a large country estate where she comes across hostile sheep, a gaggle of naked children chasing a huge pig and an androgynous rider on horseback whom she runs after back to a manor house.
Upon entering the apparently abandoned house, the young girl is entering another world. It’s obvious to viewers that the director was also inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Malle admitted as much in later interviews.
Inside this house Lily comes upon a bedridden Old Woman (Therese Giehse) speaking gibberish to a very large rat (more like a baby kangaroo). The Old Woman also occasionally communicates in English via a ham radio when she’s not smacking her lips as a signal for the young women to unbutton their blouse’s and breast feed her. I told you it was bizarre!
There’s also a pair of incestuous twins both named Lily and played by Warhol Factory alumni Joe Dallesandro and Alexandra Stewart (Malle’s companion at the time). Also an overweight talking unicorn who seems to symbolize some elusive desire the young Lily is always pursuing. The naked feral children pop up in a few more scenes as well.
The movie is challenging in that there is no traditional narrative, several fantastic allegories and sexual subtexts but no real meaning. The cinematography by Sven Nykvist (Ingmar Bergman’s director of photography) is nearly perfect. Malle had instructed Nykvist that he wanted no sun in any shot. The result is a gloomy, eerie, autumn like landscape yet beautiful. Powerful image after image is thrust upon the viewer. The film is clearly not for everyone. Critics and audiences alike either love it or hate it (I’m obviously in the former category).
If the viewer can get past the lack of a storyline or any logical meaning and simply enjoy it for its visual artistry, I can assure you it is a most rewarding experience.
To order Black Moon on DVD from Amazon USA, or Amazon Canada click on one of the corresponding links below.