Milou en mai

France-Italy 1990, 107 mins
Director: Louis Malle

Set in the South in peacetime, teeming with characters, full of jokes and sly allusions, sunny and mischevious, a comedy not a tragedy, Milou en mai might seem to confirm Louis Malle’s sometime reputation as a maverick. Certainly, he was never a card-carrying Cahiers du Cinéma activist: but he was at least on the fringes of the New Wave, and Truffaut valued him highly, especially for Zazie dans le metro – ‘un film follement ambitieux et d’un courage immense’. In fact, Milou en mai is also madly ambitious, and its boldness in teasing a cherished theme has led to attacks on it in France.

Once again, cliché plays a part: this time, the vultures who gather to hear the reading of a will. The deceased is an old lady (Paulette Dubost) whose 60-year-old son Milou (Michel Piccoli) has been happily neglecting the family estate in the Gers, to the west of Toulouse. His bucolic pleasures – fishing, beekeeping, bedding his housekeeper – are interrupted when the relatives descend. They include a selfish, dishy blonde daughter (Miou-Miou), an anxious brother, an English in-law (Harriet Walter) and an angry lesbian niece. The will, as always, is a disappointment and a bone to pick: but more embarrassing is the fact that this is May 1968. In faraway Paris, the radio reports student riots; and even here in the South-West the gravediggers have gone on strike.

So Madame lies in state in the library – until rumours of revolution, even in this rustic enclave, spook the family into taking to the woods. Out they all traipse, with aspirins, laxatives and other essentials, incongruous as the tottery ladies on their high heels in some Jacques Tati farce. Then they, too, are infected by the spirit of the May événements. They dream of living the simple life. They share a joint, puffing like gaffers. They grope inconclusively towards free love.

In the end, of course, convention is re-established. The local capitalist even poisons a stream. Precious possessions, it’s clear, will be scattered and wasted on greedy heirs: only the housekeeper, an unexpected legatee who now plans to marry her young fiancé, will really benefit from the will. As for Milou, who knows? His lazy stoicism, superbly conveyed by Piccoli, never so relaxed and florid, will probably enable him to enjoy his remaining years.

On the surface, then, this is a cheerful picture, endorsing scapegrace pastoral values, with even some nods towards ecological Greens. It includes incidental felicities: a swarm of bees writhing on a peasant’s head and shoulders, a dizzy tracking shot of a bicycle ride, a sweet modulation from seemingly classical violin music into the joyous syncopation of Stéphane Grappelli. Yet, on analysis, the film’s depiction of the bourgeoisie de province is no less scathing than in some of Chabrol’s movies; and its real subject, like that of Une affaire de femmes, is treated mainly offscreen. What Milou en mai is saying, in fact, is what attracted hostility in Paris: that the 1968 student riots, as Raymond Aron was reviled for pointing out, were chiefly an intoxicating charade. For nostalgic soixant-huitards, this was an unwelcome message, hardly compatible with their notion of la Nouvelle Vague.

In reality, questioning received wisdom was always the New Wave’s habit; and in his best films of the last 20 years, Louis Malle has quietly and firmly done just that. Lacombe Lucien, in 1974, blew up a storm of protest because naïve viewers thought it an apology for wartime collaboration. Au revoir les enfants, painfully autobiographical, hinted at guilt and self-accusation for adolescent insouciance. And when I last saw Malle he was musing about a film on the épuration, the postwar settling of Occupation scores. There seems nothing conformist about such prickly, uncomfortable concerns. In that respect, the New Wave lives on.
Richard Mayne, Sight and Sound, Summer 1990

Director: Louis Malle
Production Companies: Nouvelles Éditions de Films, TF1 Films Production, Ellepi Films
Executive Producer: Vincent Malle
Production Manager: Gérald Molto
Production Co-ordinator: Jean-Yves Asselin
Assistant Director: Michel Ferry
Screenplay: Louis Malle, Jean-Claude Carrière
Director of Photography: Renato Berta
Editor: Emmanuelle Castro
Art Director: Willy Holt
Set Decorator: Philippe Turlure
Costume Designer: Catherine Leterrier
Wardrobe Mistress: Anne David
Chief Make-up Artists: Joël Lavau, Françoise Berroyer
Music: Stéphane Grappelli
Sound Recording: Jean-Claude Laureux
Sound Re-recording: Dominique Hennequin

Michel Piccoli (Milou)
Miou-Miou (Camille)
Michel Duchaussoy (Georges)
Dominique Blanc (Claire)
Harriet Walter (Lily)
Bruno Carette (Grimaldi)
François Berléand (Daniel)
Martine Gautier (Adèle)
Paulette Dubost (Madame Vieuzac)
Rozenn Le Tallec (Marie-Laure)
Renaud Danner (Pierre-Alain)
Jeanne Herry-Leclerc (Françoise)
Benjamin Prieur, Nicolas Prieur (twins)
Marcel Bories (Léonce)
Etienne Draber (Monsieur Boutelleau)
Valérie Lemercier (Madame Boutelleau)
Hubert Saint-Macary (Paul)
Bernard Brocas (priest)
Georges Vaur (Delmas)
Jacqueline Staup, Anne-Marie Bonage (neighbours)
Denise Juskiewenski (Madame Abel)
Stéphane Broquedis (young man)
Serge Angeloff (Adèle’s fiancé)

France-Italy 1990
107 mins

La Mort en ce jardin (Evil Eden)
Thu 1 Jun 20:35; Tue 6 Jun 18:15
Le Mépris (Contempt)
From Fri 2 Jun
The Diary of a Chambermaid (Le journal d’une femme de chambre)
Fri 2 Jun 18:15; Fri 16 Jun 20:55
Belle de jour
Fri 2 Jun 20:40; Sun 25 Jun 18:45
Les Choses de la vie (The Things of Life)
Sat 3 Jun 12:30; Tue 13 Jun 20:45
Sat 3 Jun 15:00; Wed 14 Jun 18:15
La Grande Bouffe (Blow-Out)
Sat 3 Jun 20:30; Mon 12 Jun 18:10
Ten Days’ Wonder (La Décade prodigeuse)
Sun 4 Jun 15:20; Sat 17 Jun 20:40
Vincent, François, Paul et les autres
Sun 4 Jun 18:00; Sun 18 Jun 13:10
Beyond Good and Evil: The Discreet Charm of Michel Piccoli
Mon 5 Jun 18:15
Tue 6 Jun 21:00; Fri 16 Jun 18:20
Spoiled Children (Des enfants gatés)
Wed 7 Jun 18:10; Mon 12 Jun 20:40
Une chambre en ville (A Room in Town)
Wed 14 Jun 20:45; Sat 24 Jun 13:00
Mauvais sang (The Night Is Young)
Sat 17 Jun 15:15; Thu 22 Jun 20:40
Milou en mai (Milou in May)
Sun 18 Jun 16:00; Mon 26 Jun 20:40
Belle toujours
Wed 21 Jun 20:50; Sun 25 Jun 16:30
La Belle Noiseuse
Sat 24 Jun 15:20; Wed 28 Jun 18:10
Habemus Papam – We Have a Pope
Sun 25 Jun 14:00; Thu 29 Jun 20:45

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
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