Synopsis: “After skirting the horrors of a mysterious war being waged in the countryside, beautiful young Lily takes refuge in a remote farmhouse, where she becomes embroiled in the surreal domestic life of an extremely unconventional family. Evocatively shot by cinematographer Sven Nykvist, Black Moon is a Freudian tale of adolescent sexuality set in a postapocalyptic world of shifting identities and talking animals. It is one of Malle’s most experimental films and a cinematic daydream like no other.”
Despite winning two César Awards upon its release, Black Moon is the least-screened film in Malle’s oeuvre. Heralded as an elaborate surrealist fantasy, it juxtaposes bizarre relationships (an androgynous, incestuous couple portrayed by Alexandra Stewart and Joe Dallesandro), animals (including a badger, snakes, a tame rat and a unicorn), and surrealist images (ants crawling over a block of cheese, a piglet in a high chair) with a quasi-science fiction plot that is rife with sexual allegory.
“It is a tale of a young girl’s sexual awakening, explicitly modeled on Alice in Wonderland, which dictated, among other things, Malle’s choice of the British actress Cathryn Harrison (granddaughter of Rex Harrison) and his preference for filming it in English,” writes Ginette Vincendeau, professor of film studies at King’s College London. “Throughout the film, a series of images reflects both her sexual curiosity and her sexual fears: most obviously, the unicorn but also the horse on which the sister Lily is seen, the snakes that erupt from drawers, the frequent echo of Lily’s behavior in that of the animals, and such violent images as the decapitation of the eagle. The literate spectator can thus enjoy decoding these images—including the opaque symbolism of the ‘black moon,’ an astrological hieroglyph connected with the unicorn and female sexuality—as well as the abundance of painterly, literary, and cinematic references that Black Moon offers (for instance, the heroine is at various points seen sitting in languid poses by the open fire, a clear nod to Balthus’s 1930s erotic paintings of young girls). ButBlack Moon is not confined to such intellectual games, and we can actually see it also as a film of its moment, both in terms of the culture at large and of Malle’s own trajectory.”
Saturday, April 12 | 2 pm
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art