Experimental film is a really weird area of cinema that has its really hard core, die hard followers and plenty of critics and skeptics who really can’t get into it at all. I, personally, think that experimental film making can be really cool when done by the right artist and done correctly. Of course it helps if these experimental films dabble with surrealism, but that’s just my own personal taste. One name that doesn’t really come up in conversation about this kind of film making is French writer/director Louis Malle. Malle is best known for films like My Dinner with Andre and Lacombe Lucien, along with his many documentaries. In 1975, however, Louis Malle made a film called Black Moon, a surreal trip with hints of Lewis Carroll that isolated many critics and audiences, even still today.
In a post-apocalyptic world, men and women are engaged in a brutal war against each other. Lily (Cathryn Harrison) is a teenage girl who is fleeing the countryside to get away from the war soon finds herself at a mansion in the middle of nowhere after she was chased by the opposing soldiers. As she begins exploring the house she meets a strange old lady (Therese Giehse) lying in a bed, who’s only friend is a rat and who keeps contact with the outside world through a ham radio. She also meets a brother (Joe Dallesandro) and sister (Alexandra Stewart) who looks very much alike and may actually be the same person. Finally, she meets many talking animals and plants, including a unicorn, but all of this doesn’t matter once the war begins getting closer and closer to the mansion.
This is one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time, and I went into Black Moon not knowing anything about it. As far as this film goes, I think this was a really entertaining film for being an experimental movie. There was enough weird things going on in it to keep me interested and the whole backdrop of a war between men and women was an interesting thing to see, especially with both sides being equally menacing. Being made in the mid-1970s, Malle wanted to make a sort of statement on the new wave of feminism going on, but the way he does it is smart. Both sides of the war are equally brutal and unforgiving towards each other, with scenes of violence being committed by both genders.
Being a movie with very little dialogue, the sound design is very impressive and perfectly makes up for how little actual talking there is. It’s really amusing whenever an animal talks, and can be kind of weird when flowers and grass cry out in pain when they are being stepped on. Even the bugs can be heard, their tiny mandibles scratching on the rocks that they scurry across. Along with the awesome audio is some really impressive cinematography by Sven Nykvist, who often collaborated with Ingmar Bergman. The film has a very muted look to it, emphasizing the time of year and the mysterious war alike. His cinematography really succeeded at putting me in the movie, and worked very well with the sound design to be very immersive, if not just as strange as everything else.
Now, even though the cinematography, sound, and strangeness is all very appealing and made for an entertaining movie, Black Moon can become pretty tiresome after a little while and may require more than one sitting to finish. This is a pretty average length movie, but there really isn’t any story and a lot of just running around around the house seeing weird things. That’s why most surrealist and experimental films that people talk about, like the overly obsessed Un Chien Andalou and La Jetée, are short films. The film makers got their points across in a short amount of time so our brains didn’t feel like mush at the end of the movies. Black Moon goes on and on, and a break is recommended to more easily get through the film.
Black Moon is one of those movies where you need to be careful because it is far from a traditional film. It’s Louis Malle’s trip down Carroll’s rabbit hole where the result is a surreal metaphor for gender relations and sexual discovery. Very 1970s if you ask me. I enjoy films like this because they challenge me to look deeper into the odd events and figure them out, even though this one is a bit more explicit than most. If you enjoy the work of Buñuel, Dali, or other surrealists, you ought to check out Black Moon.