Louis Malle

Louis Marie Malle (French: [lwi mal]; 30 October 1932 23 November 1995) was a French film director, screenwriter, and producer who worked in both French cinema and Hollywood. Described as "eclectic" and "a filmmaker difficult to pin down," Malle's filmography encompassed a variety genres ranging from documentaries, to romances, to period dramas, and thrillers; often detailing provocative or controversial subject matter.[2]

Louis Malle
Louis Marie Malle[1]

(1932-10-30)30 October 1932
Thumeries, Nord, France
Died23 November 1995(1995-11-23) (aged 63)
Alma materSciences Po
La Fémis
  • Film director
  • screenwriter
  • producer
Years active1953–1995
Anne-Marie Deschodt
(m. 1965; div. 1967)

(m. 1980)

His most famous works include the crime thriller Elevator to the Gallows (1958), the romantic drama The Lovers (1958), the World War II drama Lacombe, Lucien (1974), the period drama Pretty Baby (1978), the romantic crime film Atlantic City (1980), the dramedy My Dinner with Andre (1981), and the autobiographical Au revoir les enfants (1987). He also co-directed the landmark underwater documentary The Silent World with Jacques Cousteau, which won the 1956 Palme d'Or and the 1957 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Malle was one of only four directors to have won the Golden Lion twice. His other accolades included three Césars, two BAFTAs, and three Oscar nominations. He was made a Fellow of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 1991.[3]

Early life

Malle was born into a wealthy industrialist family in Thumeries, Nord, France, the son of Françoise (Béghin) and Pierre Malle.[4]

During World War II, Malle attended a Roman Catholic boarding school near Fontainebleau. As an 11-year-old he witnessed a Gestapo raid on the school, in which three Jewish students, including his close friend, and a Jewish teacher were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz. The school's headmaster, Père Jacques, was arrested for harboring them and sent to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. Malle would later address these events in his autobiographical film Au revoir les enfants (1987).

As a young man, Malle initially studied political science at Sciences Po from 1950 to 1952 (some sources incorrectly state that he studied at the Sorbonne) before turning to film studies at IDHEC.


Malle worked as the co-director and cameraman to Jacques Cousteau on the documentary The Silent World (1956), which won an Oscar and the Palme d'Or at the 1956 Academy Awards and Cannes Film Festival respectively. He assisted Robert Bresson on A Man Escaped (French title: Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut, 1956) before making his first feature, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud in 1957 (released in the U.K. as Lift to the Scaffold and in the U.S. originally as Frantic, later as Elevator to the Gallows). A taut thriller featuring an original score by Miles Davis, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud made an international film star of Jeanne Moreau, at the time a leading stage actress of the Comédie-Française. Malle was 24 years old.

Malle's The Lovers (Les Amants, 1958), which also starred Moreau, caused major controversy due to its sexual content, leading to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case regarding the legal definition of obscenity. In Jacobellis v. Ohio, a theater owner was fined $2,500 for obscenity. The decision was eventually reversed by the higher court, which found that the film was not obscene and hence constitutionally protected. However, the court could not agree on the definition of "obscene", which caused Justice Potter Stewart to utter his "I know it when I see it" opinion, perhaps the most famous single line associated with the court.

Malle is sometimes associated with the nouvelle vague movement. His work does not directly fit in with or correspond to the auteurist theories that apply to the work of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Éric Rohmer and others, and he had nothing whatsoever to do with the Cahiers du cinéma. However, Malle's work does exemplify some of the characteristics of the movement, such as using natural light and shooting on location, and his film Zazie dans le Métro ("Zazie in the Metro", 1960, an adaptation of the Raymond Queneau novel) inspired Truffaut to write an enthusiastic letter to Malle.

Other films also tackled taboo subjects: The Fire Within centres on a man about to commit suicide, Le souffle au cœur (1971) deals with an incestuous relationship between mother and son, and Lacombe Lucien (1974), co-written with Patrick Modiano, is about collaboration with the Nazis in Vichy France during World War II. The second of these earned Malle his first (of three) Oscar nominations for "Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced".

Documentary on India

Malle visited India in 1968, and made a seven-part documentary series, L'Inde fantôme: Reflexions sur un voyage, and a documentary film, Calcutta, which was released in cinemas.[5] Concentrating on real India, its rituals and festivities, Malle fell afoul of the Indian government, which disliked his portrayal of the country, in its fascination with the pre-modern, and consequently banned the BBC from filming in India for several years.[6] Malle later claimed his documentary on India was his favorite film.[6]

Move to America

Malle later moved to the United States and continued to direct there. His later films include Pretty Baby (1978), Atlantic City (1980), My Dinner with Andre (1981), Crackers (1984), Alamo Bay (1985), Damage (1992) and Vanya on 42nd Street (1994, an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya) in English; Au revoir les enfants (1987) and Milou en Mai (May Fools in the U.S., 1990) in French. Just as his earlier films such as The Lovers helped popularize French films in the United States, My Dinner with Andre was at the forefront of the rise of American independent cinema in the 1980s.

Towards the end of his life, Malle was interviewed extensively for The Times by cultural correspondent Melinda Camber Porter. In 1993, the interviews were included in Camber Porter's book Through Parisian Eyes: Reflections On Contemporary French Arts And Culture.

Personal life

Malle was married to actress Anne-Marie Deschodt from 1965 to 1967. He later had a son, Manuel Cuotemoc Malle (born 1971), with German actress Gila von Weitershausen, and a daughter, filmmaker Justine Malle (born 1974), with Canadian actress Alexandra Stewart.[7]

He married actress Candice Bergen in 1980. They had one child, a daughter, Chloé Françoise Malle, on 8 November 1985.[8] He died from lymphoma, aged 63, at their home in Beverly Hills, California, on 23 November 1995.[9]


Feature films

Year Title Director Writer Producer Other Notes
1953 Crazeologie Yes Yes Short film
1954 Station 307 Yes Yes Yes Short film; Also cinematographer
1958 Elevator to the Gallows Yes Yes
1958 The Lovers Yes
1960 Zazie in the Metro Yes Yes Yes
1962 A Very Private Affair Yes Yes Yes Appeared as a journalist
1963 The Fire Within Yes Yes
1965 Viva Maria! Yes Yes
1967 The Thief of Paris Yes Yes
1968 Spirits of the Dead Yes Yes Segment: "William Wilson"
1969 A Very Curious Girl Yes Appeared as Jésus
1971 Murmur of the Heart Yes Yes
1974 Lacombe, Lucien Yes Yes Yes
1975 Black Moon Yes Yes
1978 Pretty Baby Yes Yes
1980 Atlantic City Yes
1981 My Dinner with Andre Yes
1984 Crackers Yes
1985 Alamo Bay Yes Yes
1987 Au revoir les enfants Yes Yes Yes
1990 May Fools Yes Yes Yes
1992 La Vie de Bohème Yes Appeared in a cameo
1992 Damage Yes Yes
1994 Vanya on 42nd Street Yes Yes

Documentary films

Year Title Director Writer Producer Other Notes
1956 The Silent World Yes Co-directed with Jacques Cousteau
1962 Vive le Tour Yes Yes Yes Also cinematographer
1969 Calcutta Yes Yes Yes Also narrator
1973 Human, Too Human Yes
1974 Place de la République Yes Yes Appeared as himself
1976 Close Up Yes Short film
1986 And the Pursuit of Happiness Yes Yes Also cinematographer and narrator


Year Title Director Writer Producer Other Notes
1964 Bons baisers de Bangkok Yes Short film
1969 Phantom India Yes Yes Miniseries; Also narrator
1985 God's Country Yes Yes Also cinematographer and narrator
1994 Murphy Brown Yes Appeared as himself; Episode: "My Movie with Louis"

Awards and nominations


  1. Archived February 8, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  2. "Where to begin with Louis Malle". BFI. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  3. "1991 Film Fellowship | BAFTA Awards". awards.bafta.org. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  4. Matsen, Brad (October 5, 2010). Jacques Cousteau: The Sea King. New York: Vintage Books. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-307-27542-4.
  5. Archived April 16, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  6. "BBC iPlayer". Bbc.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2004-09-17. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  7. "Louis Malle - Films & Bio". newwavefilm.com. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  8. Bergen, Candice (7 April 2015). A Fine Romance. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-684-80827-7.
  9. Severo, Richard (25 November 1995). "Louis Malle, Film Director Equally at Home in France and America, Is Dead at 63". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  10. "5th Moscow International Film Festival (1967)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  11. "The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  12. "Berlinale: 1984 Programme". berlinale.de. Retrieved 26 November 2010.

Further reading

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