Louis Malle
Louis Marie Malle[1]

(1932-10-30)30 October 1932
Thumeries, Nord, France
Died23 November 1995(1995-11-23) (aged 63)
Alma materSciences Po
La Fémis
  • Film director
  • screenwriter
  • producer
Years active1953–1995
(m. 1965; div. 1967)

(m. 1980)

Louis Marie Malle (French: [lwi mal]; 30 October 1932 – 23 November 1995) was a French film director, screenwriter, and producer. His film Le Monde du silence won the Palme d'Or in 1956 and the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1957, although he was not credited at the ceremony; the award was instead presented to the film's co-director Jacques Cousteau. Later in his career he was nominated multiple times for Academy Awards. Malle is also one of only four directors to have won the Golden Lion twice.

Malle worked in both French cinema and Hollywood, and he produced both French and English language films. His most famous films include the crime film Elevator to the Gallows (1958), the World War II drama Lacombe, Lucien (1974), the romantic crime film Atlantic City (1980), the comedy-drama My Dinner with Andre (1981), and the autobiographical film Au revoir les enfants (1987).


Early life

Malle was born into a wealthy industrialist family in Thumeries, Nord, France, the son of Françoise (Béghin) and Pierre Malle.[2]

During World War II, Malle attended a Roman Catholic boarding school near Fontainebleau. As an 11-year-old he witnessed a Gestapo raid on the school, in which three Jewish students, including his close friend, and a Jewish teacher were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz. The school's headmaster, Père Jacques, was arrested for harboring them and sent to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. Malle would later address these events in his autobiographical film Au revoir les enfants (1987).

As a young man, Malle initially studied political science at Sciences Po from 1950 to 1952 (some sources incorrectly state that he studied at the Sorbonne) before turning to film studies at IDHEC.

He worked as the co-director and cameraman to Jacques Cousteau on the documentary The Silent World (1956), which won an Oscar and the Palme d'Or at the 1956 Academy Awards and Cannes Film Festival respectively. He assisted Robert Bresson on A Man Escaped (French title: Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut, 1956) before making his first feature, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud in 1957 (released in the U.K. as Lift to the Scaffold and in the U.S. originally as Frantic, later as Elevator to the Gallows). A taut thriller featuring an original score by Miles Davis, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud made an international film star of Jeanne Moreau, at the time a leading stage actress of the Comédie-Française. Malle was 24 years old.

Malle's The Lovers (Les Amants, 1958), which also starred Moreau, caused major controversy due to its sexual content, leading to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case regarding the legal definition of obscenity. In Jacobellis v. Ohio, a theater owner was fined $2,500 for obscenity. The decision was eventually reversed by the higher court, which found that the film was not obscene and hence constitutionally protected. However, the court could not agree on the definition of "obscene", which caused Justice Potter Stewart to utter his "I know it when I see it" opinion, perhaps the most famous single line associated with the court.

Malle is sometimes associated with the nouvelle vague movement. His work does not directly fit in with or correspond to the auteurist theories that apply to the work of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Éric Rohmer and others, and he had nothing whatsoever to do with the Cahiers du cinéma. However, Malle's work does exemplify some of the characteristics of the movement, such as using natural light and shooting on location, and his film Zazie dans le Métro ("Zazie in the Metro", 1960, an adaptation of the Raymond Queneau novel) inspired Truffaut to write an enthusiastic letter to Malle. The movement is also referenced by name in the film, with Zazie's uncle Gabriel exclaiming "C'est la Nouvelle Vague!" in an early scene.

Other films also tackled taboo subjects: The Fire Within centres on a man about to commit suicide, Le souffle au cœur (1971) deals with an incestuous relationship between mother and son, and Lacombe Lucien (1974), co-written with Patrick Modiano, is about collaboration with the Nazis in Vichy France during World War II. The second of these earned Malle his first (of three) Oscar nominations for "Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced".

Documentary on India

Malle visited India in 1968, and made a seven-part documentary series, L'Inde fantôme: Reflexions sur un voyage, and a documentary film, Calcutta, which was released in cinemas.[3] Concentrating on India's religious rituals and festivities, Malle fell afoul of the Indian government, which disliked his portrayal of the country, in its fascination with the pre-modern, and consequently banned the BBC from filming in India for several years.[4] Malle later claimed his documentary on India was his favorite film.[4]

Move to America

Malle later moved to the United States and continued to direct there. His later films include Pretty Baby (1978), Atlantic City (1980), My Dinner with Andre (1981), Crackers (1984), Alamo Bay (1985), Damage (1992) and Vanya on 42nd Street (1994, an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya) in English; Au revoir les enfants (1987) and Milou en Mai (May Fools in the U.S., 1990) in French. Just as his earlier films such as The Lovers helped popularize French films in the United States, My Dinner with Andre was at the forefront of the rise of American independent cinema in the 1980s.

Towards the end of his life, Malle was interviewed extensively for The Times by cultural correspondent Melinda Camber Porter. In 1993, the interviews were included in Camber Porter's book Through Parisian Eyes: Reflections On Contemporary French Arts And Culture.

Personal life

Malle was married to actress Anne-Marie Deschodt from 1965 to 1967. He later had a son, Manuel Cuotemoc Malle (born 1971), with German actress Gila von Weitershausen, and a daughter, filmmaker Justine Malle (born 1974), with Canadian actress Alexandra Stewart.[5]

He married actress Candice Bergen in 1980. They had one child, a daughter, Chloé Françoise Malle, on 8 November 1985.[6] He died from lymphoma, aged 63, at their home in Beverly Hills, California, on 23 November 1995.[7]

Awards and nominations


Feature films

Title Year Director Writer Producer Other Notes
Crazeologie 1953 Yes Yes Short film
Station 307 1954 Yes Yes Yes Short film; Also cinematographer
Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud) 1958 Yes Yes
The Lovers (Les amants) 1958 Yes
Zazie in the Metro (Zazie dans le Métro) 1960 Yes Yes Yes
A Very Private Affair (Vie privée) 1962 Yes Yes Yes Appeared as a journalist
The Fire Within (Le feu follet) 1963 Yes Yes
Viva Maria! 1965 Yes Yes
The Thief of Paris (Le voleur) 1967 Yes Yes
Spirits of the Dead (Histoires extraordinaires) 1968 Yes Yes Segment: "William Wilson"
A Very Curious Girl (La Fiancée du pirate) 1969 Yes Appeared as Jésus
Murmur of the Heart (Le souffle au cœur) 1971 Yes Yes
Lacombe, Lucien 1974 Yes Yes Yes
Black Moon 1975 Yes Yes
Pretty Baby 1978 Yes Yes
Atlantic City 1980 Yes
My Dinner with Andre 1981 Yes
Crackers 1984 Yes
Alamo Bay 1985 Yes Yes
Goodbye, Children (Au revoir les enfants) 1987 Yes Yes Yes
May Fools (Milou en Mai) 1990 Yes Yes Yes
La Vie de Bohème 1992 Yes Appeared in a cameo
Damage 1992 Yes Yes
Vanya on 42nd Street 1994 Yes Yes

Documentary films

Title Year Director Writer Producer Other Notes
The Silent World (Le Monde du silence) 1956 Yes Co-directed with Jacques Cousteau
Vive le Tour 1962 Yes Yes Yes Also cinematographer
Calcutta 1969 Yes Yes Yes Also narrator
Human, Too Human (Humain, trop humain) 1973 Yes
Place de la République 1974 Yes Yes Appeared as himself
Close Up 1976 Yes Short film
And the Pursuit of Happiness 1986 Yes Yes Also cinematographer and narrator


Title Year Director Writer Producer Other Notes
Bons baisers de Bangkok 1964 Yes Short film
Phantom India (L'Inde Fantôme) 1969 Yes Yes Miniseries; Also narrator
God's Country 1985 Yes Yes Also cinematographer and narrator
Murphy Brown 1994 Yes Appeared as himself; Episode: "My Movie with Louis"


  1. ^ [1] Archived February 8, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Matsen, Brad (October 5, 2010). Jacques Cousteau: The Sea King. New York: Vintage Books. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-307-27542-4.
  3. ^ [2] Archived April 16, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b "BBC iPlayer". Bbc.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2004-09-17. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  5. ^ "Louis Malle - Films & Bio". newwavefilm.com. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  6. ^ Bergen, Candice (7 April 2015). A Fine Romance. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-684-80827-7.
  7. ^ Severo, Richard (25 November 1995). "Louis Malle, Film Director Equally at Home in France and America, Is Dead at 63". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  8. ^ "5th Moscow International Film Festival (1967)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  9. ^ "The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  10. ^ "Berlinale: 1984 Programme". berlinale.de. Retrieved 26 November 2010.

Further reading