Friday, May 30, 2014

PRETTY BABY (1978) - Louis Malle

Louis Malle made a career out of putting adolescents in leading roles and then foisting them into adult-like circumstances (Au Revoir Les Enfants, Murmur of the Heart, even Zazie). But with his first English language film in the States, it just seems, well, creepy. A 12 year old Brooke Shields plays Violet, the daughter/sister of New Orleans whore Susan Sarandon. Of late, Violet's begun to work her way up from flophouse mascot to one of the regular working girls. Photographer Keith Carradine comes along to take some silver nitrate snaps of the ladies, then to take this very young girl for his bride. Yes, girls this young were commonly wed in those days (early 1900s), especially in the South. But that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable to see how much Malle's lens relishes shooting young Shields in the nude.

I'm sure his intentions were upstanding. Either way, the execution is weak by Malle standards. I have a feeling this has something to do with it being his first stab at Hollywood. Other than Sarandon, his actors give some pretty wooden line readings. Shields seems destined for sit-coms (and The Blue Lagoon) even at this early age. And Carradine, normally very reliable, has a couple of wince-inducing scenes. But then again how easy is it to play natural when your love interest looks the same age as Pippi Longstocking? One thing Pretty Baby's got going for it: the Sven Nykvist cinematography. Sumptuous, I believe is the word. It almost makes you forget you're watching the '70s arthouse equivalent of kiddie porn.

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