Film Director Louis Malle Dies Daring Filmmaker’s Works Ranged From Incest To Nazi Collaboration To Child Prostitution To Bigamy
Filmmaker Louis Malle, whose movies “Atlantic City” and “Au Revoir Les Enfants,” showed his partiality for human characters over superhuman plots, has died. He was 63.
Malle died from lymphoma Thanksgiving evening, at home with his wife, actress Candice Bergen, beside him, publicist Pat Kingsley said Friday. He had been severely ill for several months.
After making his professional start in documentaries, sharing an Academy Award for the 1956 Jacques Cousteau film “The Silent World,” Malle went on to create memorable character stories, from Brooke Shields’ “Pretty Baby” to the groundbreaking “My Dinner With Andre.”
His movies were tightly focused and filmed with such beauty that images - such as Burt Lancaster watching Susan Sarandon bathe herself with lemons in “Atlantic City” - remained with people long after seeing the films.
The daring director rarely shied away from difficult, often sexual, subject matter and provocative photography during his five-decade career. His films explored everything from incest to Nazi collaboration to child prostitution to bigamy. He turned out two controversial romantic dramas in two truly different eras - 1958’s “The Lovers” with Jeanne Moreau and 1992’s “Damage,” starring Jeremy Irons.
The languid cinematography of “The Lovers” set a modern benchmark for love scenes, and “Damage” was remarkable for its disturbingly candid sex scene between a father and his son’s fiancee.
“I’m a filmmaker, not a sociologist,” he said in an interview after finishing 1978’s controversial “Pretty Baby.” His first film produced in America starred the pubescent model Shields as a 12-year-old prostitute. “I was simply very, very interested in the story,” he said.
His 25th and last film, “Vanya on 42nd Street,” was released in 1994.
“Atlantic City” will likely be remembered as Malle’s career highlight. The 1980 film featured Lancaster as a low-rent gangster opposite Sarandon. It was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture and best director.
Malle married Bergen, who went on to star as TV’s “Murphy Brown,” that same year, and later made a cameo appearance as a film director on the sitcom.
Another well-received film was his autobiographical and deeply felt Holocaust story “Au Revoir, Les Enfants” (“Goodbye, Children”). That 1987 work won seven Cesars, the French equivalent of the Academy Awards, and was nominated for a foreign-language film Oscar. The film followed Malle’s childhood friendship with a sensitive, timid Jewish schoolmate who is turned over to Nazis and sent to die at in a concentration camp.
The shock of that experience is what led him to become a filmmaker, Malle said.
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