Murmur of the Heart

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Murmur of the Heart
Poster2 Louis Malle Murmur of the Heart Le Souffle au coeur.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLouis Malle
Produced byVincent Malle
Claude Nedjar
Written byLouis Malle
StarringBenoît Ferreux,
Lea Massari
Music byGaston Frèche
Charlie Parker
Henri Renaud
CinematographyRicardo Aronovich
Edited bySuzanne Baron
Distributed byOrion Classics
Release date
April 28, 1971 (1971-04-28) (France)
October 20, 1971 (1971-10-20) (Italy)
Running time
118 minutes
West Germany

Murmur of the Heart (French: Le souffle au cœur) is a 1971 French film by French director Louis Malle and starring Lea Massari, Benoît Ferreux and Daniel Gélin. Written as Malle's semi-autobiography, the film tells a coming of age story about a 14-year-old boy growing up in bourgeois surroundings in post-World War II Dijon, France, with a complex relationship with his Italian mother.

The film was screened at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival and was a box office success in France. In the United States, it received positive reviews and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.


Laurent Chevalier is a nearly 15-year-old boy living in Dijon in 1954 who loves jazz, always receives the highest grades in his class and who opposes the First Indochina War. He has an unloving father Charles, who is a gynecologist, an affectionate Italian mother, Clara, and two older brothers, Thomas and Marc. Thomas and Marc are notorious pranksters, while Laurent engages in taboos such as shoplifting and masturbation. Laurent also witnesses Clara meeting with a lover, and upset with the adultery, runs to tell Charles. Charles, busy with his practice, angrily turns him away.

One night, Thomas and Marc take Laurent to a brothel, where Laurent loses his virginity to a prostitute, Freda, before they are disrupted by his drunken brothers. Upset, Laurent leaves on a scouting trip, where he catches scarlet fever and is left with a heart murmur. Laurent is bedridden and cared for and entertained by Clara and their maid Augusta. Laurent's teacher at his Catholic school suggests that Laurent's illness has matured him, so that he has made progress in his studies, and urges Clara to treat him more like an adult.

As Laurent requires treatment at a sanatorium, he and Clara check into a hotel. Due to an error by Charles' secretary Solange, the hotel books one room for both Clara and Laurent, and given the hotel is completely full, hotel staff cannot offer an additional room. Laurent takes interest in two young girls at the hotel, Hélène and Daphne, and also spies on his mother in the bathtub. Though Laurent pursues Hélène, Hélène says she is not ready for sex; Laurent accuses her of being a lesbian. Clara temporarily leaves with her lover, but comes back distraught after their breakup, and is comforted by her son. After a night of heavy drinking on Bastille Day, Laurent and Clara have sex. Clara tells him afterwards that this incest will not be repeated, but that they should not look back on it with remorse. Afterwards, Laurent leaves their room, and after unsuccessfully trying to seduce Hélène, spends the night with Daphne.



Director Louis Malle wrote Murmur of the Heart in part as an autobiography. As Malle said, "My passion for jazz, my curiosity about literature, the tyranny of my two elder brothers, how they introduced me to sex— this is pretty close to home."[1] Malle also suffered from a heart murmur and shared a hotel room with his mother during treatment. Aside from this, the film is a work of fiction, and takes place later than Malle's true childhood.[1] The humorous and earthy Italian mother is also a fictional character,[2] based more on a friend's mother than his own.[3] Malle asserted in interviews that the incest, in particular, is fictional.[4] He claimed that in writing the script, he had no intention to include incest, but ended up doing so as he explored an intense mother-son relationship.[5]

Upon submitting his screenplay, the National Center of Cinematography raised objections to the perverse erotic scenes. Malle was surprised by the response.[5] With the Censorship Board denying funding, the film was financed with the help of Mariane Film, a French subsidiary of Paramount Pictures.[6] Given his love of jazz, and the fact that Laurent steals a Charlie Parker album at the beginning of the film, Malle used Parker's music for the film score.[7]


In France, the film had 2,652,870 admissions.[8] It was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1971 and also played at the New York Film Festival in October 1971.[9]

On its re-release in the United States in 1989, it grossed US$1,160,784.[10] In Region 1, The Criterion Collection released the film on DVD in 2006, along with Malle's other films Lacombe, Lucien and Au Revoir les Enfants.[11]


Critical reception[edit]

Italian actress Lea Massari received positive reviews for her performance.

Roger Ebert gave the film a four-star review, comparing it favourably to The 400 Blows (1959), and writes that with the incest, Malle "takes the most highly charged subject matter you can imagine, and mutes it into simple affection."[12] Judith Crist, writing for New York, praised the "remarkable" performances from Lea Massari, Benoît Ferreux and Daniel Gélin.[13] Richard Schickel, writing for Life, said he had a "strange enthusiasm" for the film, which he felt demonstrated "taste, charm and the most winning sentiment."[14] Variety staff complimented Ferreux and Massari's performances.[15] Roger Greenspun wrote a negative opinion in The New York Times, claiming "it isn't very good" and "that it could probably have been made with as much distinction by any of those directors, all equally anonymous, who specialize in urban romantic comedy (or tragedy) of a sophistication that is supposed to be peculiarly French."[9] John Simon wrote Murmur of the Heart treated incest charmingly but unsatisfactorily.[16]

In 1989, Desson Howe wrote in the Washington Post that the film maintained its "fresh intelligence and delicacy" and "Malle's world of sarcastic, upper-middle-class brats seems to be Murmur's most enduring creation."[4] In 1990, Richard Stengel gave the film an A- in Entertainment Weekly, writing "Almost everything about this coming-of-age story rings true, and Malle avoids any heavy-handed explanations of family behavior."[17] Critic Pauline Kael called Massari "superb."[18] In his 2002 Movie & Video Guide, Leonard Maltin gives the film three and a half stars and calls it a "fresh, intelligent, affectionately comic tale."[19]

US director Wes Anderson cited Murmur of the Heart an influence, saying he loved the characters Laurent and Clara. Regarding the incest, he says, "The stuff between him and the mother feels more kind of romantic almost- but also taboo and scary in a way, which makes it even more seductive."[20] US director Noah Baumbach also named the film as an influence.[21] Rotten Tomatoes counted 16 favourable reviews out of 17 for a score of 94%.[22]


Murmur of the Heart was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 1973 Academy Awards. It was also in competition, in the French part of the official selection, at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.[23]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards 27 March 1973 Best Original Screenplay Louis Malle Nominated [24]
National Society of Film Critics 24 December 1971 Best Screenplay Louis Malle 3rd Place [25]
New York Film Critics Circle 23 January 1972 Best Actress Lea Massari 5th Place [26]


  1. ^ a b Sragow, Michael. "Murmur of the Heart: All in the Family". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  2. ^ Benson, Sheila (6 April 1989). "Movie Review : Malle Dissects French Family Life in 'Murmur of the Heart'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  3. ^ "Malle's Murmur Still Packs a Punch". Orlando Sentinel. 21 April 1989. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  4. ^ a b Howe, Desson (21 April 1989). "Murmur of the Heart". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b Brian Kellow (2011). "introduction". Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark. Penguin.
  6. ^ Chèze, Thierry (9 November 2011). "Shame, Michael... Y a-t-il des sujets tabous au cinéma?". L'Express. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  7. ^ Richard A. Macksey (2004). "Louis Malle". Film Voices: Interviews from Post Script. State University of New York Press. p. 233. ISBN 0791461556.
  8. ^ "Le Souffle Au Coeur". AlloCiné. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  9. ^ a b Greenspun, Roger (18 October 1971). "Movie Review: Murmur of the Heart". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  10. ^ "Murmur of the Heart (Re-issue)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  11. ^ Murray, Noel (10 May 2006). "Four by Louis Malle". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (1 January 1971). "Murmur of the Heart". Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  13. ^ Judith Crist (18 October 1971). "A Boy's Best Friend". New York. p. 76.
  14. ^ Richard Schickel (12 November 1971). "Deft handling of an old taboo". Life. p. 16.
  15. ^ Variety Staff (31 December 1970). "Review: 'Le Souffle Au Cœur'". Variety. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  16. ^ Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. p. 434.
  17. ^ Stengel, Richard (23 March 1990). "Murmur of the Heart (1990)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  18. ^ Pauline Kael (1991). 5001 Nights at the Movies. Macmillan. p. 503.
  19. ^ Leonard Maltin, ed. (2001). Leonard Maltin's 2002 Movie & Video Guide. A Signet Book. p. 939.
  20. ^ Monahan, Mark (9 March 2002). "Film-makers on film: Wes Anderson". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  21. ^ Denby, David (24 October 2005). "Family Matters". The New Yorker. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  22. ^ "Murmur of the Heart (1971)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  23. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Murmur of the Heart". Retrieved 2009-04-12.
  24. ^ "The 45th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  25. ^ "National Society of Film Critics". Filmfacts. American Film Institute. 14: 766. 1971.
  26. ^ Crist, Judith (17 January 1972). "I've Got a Little List (And Who Doesn't?)". New York. p. 54.

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