This week’s ”Night and Day” piece by Kristian Lin gives historical background to The Modern’s two-weekend ”Catch the Wave” festival of French New Wave classics. Many famous titles are here – “Breathless,” “The 400 Blows,” “Last Year at Marienbad” – but the festival’s oddest entry may be tonight’s (Friday the 14’s) screening of Louis Malle’s 1960 ”Zazie in the Metro”. Filmed in bright chalky color and overflowing with self-conscious camera and editing tricks, cartoon-inspired visual and sound effects, and a brassy carnival score, “Zazie” features a 12 year old Catherine Demongoet (with this maniacal, toothy performance, put the accent on “Demon”) in the title role. She’s a fearless, bob-haired runaway tearing through the streets of Paris after her promiscuous mother dumps her with an uncle (Phillippe Noiret) who works as a female impersonator at a nightclub. Zazie is more than a little androgynous herself as she badgers, ridicules, manipulates, curses, and generally overpowers every clownish adult she crosses. Demongoet’s work presages two famous, Oscar-winning child performances – Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon,” Anna Paquin in “The Piano” – but with their subtler edges mostly shaved off.
Truthfully, “Zazie in the Metro” will annoy as many first-time viewers as it entertains: With his zany backstreet chases, elaborate and destructive pratfalls, and restaurant bombings, director Malle eventually joins Demongoet in choosing to ambush rather than beguile. On the plus side, he has no interest in sentimentalizing his worldly young protagonist; the movie’s most surreal flourishes (especially during a high-speed Parisian nightlife sequence) deliver a sharp kick; and it’s impossible to guess what’s going to happen next. “Zazie” is the kind of loose-screw movie that goes well with a wine-fueled post-screening conversation. That’s one benefit of French culture that needs no translation.