director Louis Malle
Louis Malle’s modernist take on Alice in Wonderland is an avant-garde surrealist fantasy concocted and filmed on Malle’s own estate in the Dordogne valley. Using the logic, strategy and tone of Lewis Carroll’s comic dreamworld, but nothing explicit, Malle’s film isn’t beholden to reinterpreting famous characters or scenes but works a nouveau tale stumbling about in a cosmic haze.
Alice isn’t Alice. She’s Lily, played by a 16 year old Cathryn Harrison (granddaughter of Rex). And it’s not down a rabbit hole she falls, but rather her teasing nightmare is triggered by running over a badger on a country road. This triggers her visions of armed forces, a Vietnam of men versus women in the French countryside, animals of all kinds, creepy, crawly, and fantastic. Most notably of all, a Shetland pony(?) unicorn, squat and comical, not the least graceful. Naked pagan children. An old lady who’ll suckle at anyone’s teat.
Like other Alice’s, the tone is one of constant frustration and consternation, turns never going where she wants them, never explaining the bizarre moments, weirdnesses large and small. The film is mostly sans dialogue, which is quite interesting. And Cathryn Harrison is quite good, I thought, as the curious and perplexed Lily.
It’s also worth noting that Malle co-wrote Black Moon with Joyce Buñuel, daughter of Luis.
The film brought two other Alice’s to my mind, Jaromil Jireš’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) (even more loosely related and more explicitly about sexual awakening) and Jan Švankmajer’s brilliant 1988 Alice. Louis Malle is a director that I’m still exploring, having gotten off on the wrong foot with him with his late effort Damages (1993) and only lately having seen Elevator to the Gallows (1958). All I can say is that is a vast chasm between these films, but I have to say that I really liked Elevator and now Black Moon. I’ll have to see more.