ONE SCENE | Zazie dans le Métro

Zazie dans le Métro is omnivorous and exuberantly maximalist, embracing the fullness of childhood. By Louis Rogers



Zazie dreams of riding the Paris metro, and so does her film. Its title, Zazie dans le Métro (“Zazie in the metro”) would seem to promise that Zazie will be exploring Paris from underground. But there’s a strike on, and the film has to make other plans. The streets teem with vehicles, colour, people and noise (in one memorable scene, a car is left empty to be shunted along by the gapless traffic before being rejoined later). Everything that was underground has been forced up and out into the open. The Paris Zazie explores is not just abundant and rambunctious, but levelled, with all its stratifications jostling for space in the same crowded field.

This is a story – if story is right the word for Louis Malle’s kaleidoscopic tumble of expression – about a child encountering the adult world. (When Zazie’s mother asks what she did over the weekend, she replies: “I got older”.) We could read Zazie’s wish to go “underground” as richly fulfilled, though with a fraught mix of consequences. Zazie revels in infiltrating an adult world of excess, danger, and indulgence, but is also vulnerable to unsavory adult attention. Implicit and explicit sexual attractions drive the narrative at every turn, and even if Zazie manages to evade them with childish spryness, the sense of risk is real and lingering.

Zazie’s above-ground encounter with the adult world is encapsulated when she sits down to dinner with her uncle. There is no kids’ table: Zazie faces him head on. Here, they are equals, although comically mismatched – her uncle has the height and lolloping gait of Jacques Tati. The filmmaking, as everywhere, is twitchy and playful: Zazie is sat on one side of the table and then suddenly the other; their meal is eaten surreally fast; repetitive shots of courses being brought in disorientate us, guided by rhythm rather than semantic sense. There is messy abundance. The two diners dump fistfuls of food onto their plates, speaking through delighted mouthfuls. 

Zazie dans le Métro is omnivorous and exuberantly maximalist, embracing the fullness of childhood – and acknowledging the darkness that comes with it. Sitting down to her next meal, with a stranger in a Parisian café, Zazie is asked what she wants to eat: mussels? chips? In this film, only one answer is possible: “Both!”


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