DVDs: Mer de Malle

Director Louis Malle made his feature debut in 1958 at age 24 with Elevator to the Gallows (The Criterion Collection; Movie •••½, Picture/Sound •••½, Extras •••½), a coolly controlled tale of a murder plot gone awry. Images are hazy, but that's the film, not the DVD - all the better to convey the sense of un-requited longing in Jeanne Moreau's meanderings through nocturnal Paris. Meanwhile, the mono sound beautifully blends Miles Davis's famous improvised jazz score with the dialogue and effects. A disc of extras includes illuminating interviews with Malle and Moreau, a forgettable student short, and a few mesmerizing minutes of Davis creating his music.

In the '70s, the director began establishing himself as one of cinema's great humanists, and the various stories of childhood in 3 films by Louis Malle (The Criterion Collection; Movies ••••, Picture/Sound ••••, Extras •••½) exemplify his compassion and restraint. They also demonstrate that he had lost none of his ability to provoke controversy. Murmur of the Heart (1971) up-ends bourgeois sexual attitudes. Lacombe Lucien (1974) paints a sympathetic portrait of a farm youth who collaborates with the German occupation forces. And Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987) dramatizes the traumatic event of Malle's own childhood: the Gestapo arrest of three Jewish boys and the headmaster who hid them.

The various challenges presented by the exceedingly different images in these movies - the rich detail of Murmur, the sunlit colors of Lacombe Lucien, and the winter-chilly lighting of Les Enfants - are all handled skillfully on these discs. The mono soundtracks are vivid without calling undue attention to themselves. A fourth disc is devoted largely to an excellent set of interviews with Malle, Candice Bergen (his widow), and biographer Pierre Billard, which together present a fine portrait of his life, career, and personality.

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