Zazie dans le Métro (Louis Malle / France-Italy, 1960):

Nouvelle Vague and Termite Terrace, or Roald Dahl via Mack Sennett, "quelle odor!" The acquisition of silent comedy is envisioned from the start as unbridled momentum, Louis Malle opens with a locomotive's POV before hitching his camera to the 11-year-old tomboy (Catherine Demongeot) tearing through Paris for the weekend. "Mon cul" is her byword, the subway is the enchanted ride denied (there's a strike), her guardian is the epicurean uncle (Philippe Noiret) with a travesti cabaret-act on the side. Lickety-split wordplay and Méliès cuts, rollercoaster lenses and Eastmancolor filters, these are the merry vandal's arsenal, four or five gags per shot. On her trail is Wile E. Coyote in a tweed suit (Vittorio Caprioli), later reincarnated as a lovestruck gendarme and finally as a bumptious Mussolini crushed by a falling piano. (Their rooftop chase is sped-up demonically, only to be overcranked for a flash of Vigo.) Uncle meanwhile loses his specs atop the Eiffel Tower, and grows abstractedly philosophical on the ledge. "The whole town in flames—a helluva show!" It's all play for the pocket-sized heroine, just the wonders of the city and the medium passing before her eyes until she gets sleepy and conjures up her own wonderland version. The streets clogged with traffic are made to whirl in Tati's Play Time, a quick blackface jest reveals the Renoir of Sur un air de Charleston; the definite pivot is toward Richard Lester, as well as Jeunet and Wes Anderson and innumerable works in between (The Great Race, What's New Pussycat, Daisies). Nothing is lost on Malle, who, abetted by "consultant" William Klein, finally balloons a coruscating Three Stooges free-for-all at a fancy restaurant into a literal battle that dismantles the very walls of the sound stage. "A sudden stroke of genius, us artists are like that." The strike's over at the close, all part of a brat's education (cp. Black Moon). Cinematography by Henri Raichi. With Hubert Deschamps, Carla Marlier, Annie Fratellini, Jacques Dufilho, Yvonne Clech, and Odette Piquet.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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