French director Louis Malle’s only feature-length venture into surrealism, Black Moon is among the strangest movies released in the ’70s, even though it’s quite tame, in terms of content and style, when compared to the boldest sex-and-violence freakouts of the era. Instead of shock value, Malle opts for the weirdness usually found in the world of dreams, juxtaposing doomsday scenarios, mother fixations, paranoia, talking animals, and other loaded psychological signifiers. Viewers inclined to parse Black Moon for deeper meanings could write epic dissertations trying to analyze all of the aural and visual messages, and stoners could presumably groove on the wall-to-wall oddity. For viewers seeking narrative coherence, however, only consternation awaits.
British actress Cathryn Harrison stars as Lily, a young woman driving through the French countryside and trying to avoid the warring parties in a violent armed conflict between men and women. Eventually abandoning her car, Lily spots a unicorn and follows the animal to an old estate, where she encounters several bizarre beings: an elderly woman (Therese Giehse) who conspires with mysterious colleagues via radio; a young handyman (Joe Dallesandro) and his beautiful sister (Alexandra Stewart), who barely ever speak; and a slew of animals, some of whom speak.
While ostensibly trying to find the unicorn, and thereby prove she’s not crazy to think she saw the mythical animal, Lily slips into the peculiar life cycle of the estate. After watching Stewart’s character breast-feed the elderly woman, for instance, Lily helps out by breast-feeding the elderly woman when Stewart’s character is away. Black Moon is filled with images that might mean something, like the bit in which Lily berates the unicorn, which she eventually finds, for being overweight and ungraceful. The question is whether Black Moon actually generates enough excitement and interest to warrant investigation of its mysteries.
On the plus side, the movie has a beautifully overcast look; revered cinematographer Sven Nykvist shot the picture in and around Malle’s real-life family estate, so there’s a palpable sense of old Europe’s earthiness and splendor. On the minus side, the lack of a strong narrative line makes the episodes comprising the picture feel random, as if Malle (who also produced and co-wrote the picture) transcribed a stream of consciousness instead of crafting a story. Still, for many viewers, anything out of the ordinary is noteworthy, and if there’s one thing Black Moon is not, that is ordinary. Moreover, the frequent critical parallels between this film and Alice in Wonderland are justified, so if you’re game for another trip down the rabbit hole, Black Moon will certainly take you there.
Black Moon: FREAKY