'La Souffle au coeur' (Louis Malle, 1971)
It's an intensely personal story based on Louis Malle's childhood experiences, and there's a scene that had a deep impact on my work. It's 4 July and 15-year-old Laurent Chevalier has been drinking and dancing with his young mother, Clara, which neither his father or his teasing brothers can intrude upon. They return to their room at the spa where he's recuperating from a heart murmur, and she says, I can't be bothered to take my clothes off. He gently says, I'll do it for you. Her back is facing the camera, he unlatches her bra and she slowly moves around, she's giggling and they kiss. It's an explosive moment and it isn't a kiss between a young boy and his mother – it's sexual. They make passionate love. After, she simply says, I don't want you to be ashamed or regret this, it's a really beautiful moment but it will never happen again and it's a secret between us. This is the ultimate Western taboo, but it's clearly not an abusive situation because it's the result of deep love and affection between them. Malle denied it really happened. But there's a great story his brother told me that after the first screening their mother said, I remember so much of that, and she acknowledged there was a lot of truth in the film. It made me think that I can make films with sensitive subjects and from a very personal viewpoint – for instance, one early film I produced was Scum about the Borstal prison. The scene also had a massive impact because I'd had a very lonely, unpleasant childhood and here was a young boy whose mother adored him and who was nurtured. I was envious.
'If' (Lindsay Anderson, 1968)
It's a film about bullying and institutional abuse in a English public school, and I absolutely couldn't bear one horrifying scene. A central character, the anarchic Mick Travis, is framed by a group of prefects and they take him to the gym to be beaten. The prefects ritualistically tie him down and then every single one of them thrashes the daylights out of him. They do it in an incredibly sadistic and unforgiving way. It's a film that anyone who's been to public school can relate to. I'd been beaten in a room at public school. Not only that, I'd suffered serious child abuse for three years at the hands of a French teacher. For these reasons that scene was unquestionably one of the worst experiences I've had in a cinema. At this screening the director had invited film students and I couldn't even tell him how great it was when the movie finished. I was in complete anguish for days. I've since worked with Lindsay and I told him my feelings and he was thrilled in the sense that he'd succeeded in showing something that was real and accurately described. The film is a masterpiece, but one that I've been reluctant to revisit.
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