Although it stirred up a double vein of controversy - from those outraged, and those disappointed - Malle's film is less about incest and its implications than about the frustrations of bourgeois convention. The year is 1954, and the period is effortlessly caught in the opening sequence as two schoolboys swing down a street in Dijon, rattling collecting-boxes for the wounded of Dien-Bien-Phu in the intervals of rhapsodising over Charlie Parker, whose latest record they airily steal while making the shop-owner fork out a donation, 'pour la France, Monsieur'. More than anything else, the film reminds one of Truffaut and the joyous spontaneity of Les Quatre Cents Coups as 14-year-old Laurent (a stunningly natural performance by Benoît Ferreux) agonises over the problem of how to lose his virginity in the face of a tight family circle which cramps his style while ignoring his needs. He finally makes it when convalescing at a spa from a heart murmur brought on by scarlet fever, and his mother - who has hitherto treated him as a baby, while seeking escape from her own unhappiness in an extra-marital affair - obliges (after a quaintly old-fashioned courtship) in a moment of pure, liberating joy. Tender and funny rather than daring or provocative, it's a film as gracefully and elegantly teasing as the best of Eric Rohmer.
Cast and crew