Set in France in the 1950s, Murmur of the Heart is a coming of age story about an obnoxious fourteen-year-old boy, Laurent Chevalier (Benoit Ferreux). He has two brothers almost as obnoxious as he is and a father who is not bad in the obnoxious department himself. His mother is Clara (Lea Massari), who seems to be a nice, warm-hearted, loving person.She needs to ditch that family, but when she gets the chance to run off with her lover, who is just as obnoxious as her family, I guess she figures, “What’s the point?” and doesn’t bother.
There are a lot of miscellaneous plot points involving the First Indochina War, a priest, a brothel, and a heart murmur, all which manage to get Clara and Laurent into a situation where they will have to share a hotel room. Because Clara is so affectionate and sensual, we quickly figure out that we are being prepared fora little oedipal hanky-panky. Now, if this were a Hollywood movie in which a boy had sex with his mother, he would turn into some kind of Norman Bates psycho. But this movie was made in France, which means we are watching a weird foreign film, which means the incestuous affair will probably be a deep, meaningful, transformative experience for the lad. I assumed that as a result of this, he would stop being obnoxious and start being nice, warm-hearted, and loving, just like her. Nope. By the end of the movie,he is still his same old rotten self.
Before they have sex, his mother says that they will just do it one time, and then they will never talk about it again. Oh sure! For all her worldly experience, she does not seem to know much about men. You can’t give them a taste and expect them to go away and forget about how good it was.She had a husband who was very jealous when they were first in love, and she had a lover who was very jealous, and now she thinks her son won’t end up being a jealous lover too? Of course, the movie indicates that they will forget about the fact that they had sex, because Louis Malle, the writer and director,wanted it that way. But it’s not realistic, so don’t try this at home.
Not that I would know personally, but I suspect that having sex with your mother would be enough excitement for one evening. But as soon as Clara falls asleep, Laurent gets dressed and heads on down the hall for a little action with someone his own age. He wakes up one girl, comes on to her like an insufferable jerk, and when she runs him off, he heads on down the hall to the next one, where, for some mysterious reason, he actually scores. The point of this is that he is now a man of the world who has a way with women. I guess doing it with Mom was a transformative experience after all.
In a time when gender equality is the ideal, the double standard regarding the sexes is looked upon with disfavor. This movie makes us realize that in some respects, the double standard will never be completely eliminated, nor should it. Just imagine a similar movie, but one in which a man has sex with his fourteen-year-old daughter, which the movie would have us regard as being a meaningful act of love. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, because the movie Beau Pere (1981) is pretty much just that, except that the man is her stepfather. Needless to say, it was made in France.
Finally, because Laurent is Catholic, I could not help trying to imagine how his next confession is going to go. I wonder how many Hail Marys you have to say for having sex with your mother.
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