Murmur of the Heart (1971)
"Le souffle au coeur" (original title)

R  |   |  Comedy, Drama  |  17 October 1971 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 6,013 users  
Reviews: 35 user | 41 critic

This is a jolly coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy named Laurent Chevalier who is growing up in bourgeois surroundings in Dijon, France. This is France in the mid-1950s rather than... See full summary »



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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Clara Chevalier
Benoît Ferreux ...
Laurent Chevalier
Charles Chevalier
Father Henri
Ave Ninchi ...
Gila von Weitershausen ...
Freda (the prostitute)
Fabien Ferreux ...
Marc Winocourt ...
Micheline Bona ...
Aunt Claudine
Henri Poirier ...
Uncle Leonce
Liliane Sorval ...
Corinne Kersten ...
Eric Walter
François Werner ...
René Bouloc ...
Man at Bastille Day party


This is a jolly coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy named Laurent Chevalier who is growing up in bourgeois surroundings in Dijon, France. This is France in the mid-1950s rather than America in the 1990s. Thus, Laurent is unharmed by events which would irreparably shatter the self-esteem of a modern American adolescent: he gets drunk, he smokes, he has sex, he is smothered by his mother, he is ignored by his father, a priest makes a pass at him, he gets rheumatoid fever, etc. There's enough scandalous behavior in this film to make 100 made-for-TV movies, and yet this is a very happy and oddly innocent tale. Written by Tim Horrigan <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Comedy | Drama


R | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

17 October 1971 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Murmur of the Heart  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$1,200,000 (USA)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


While the incest aspects of the story were not autobiographical, Louis Malle did in fact end up sharing a hotel room with his mother as a child while on a trip to treat his heart murmur due to "bizarre" circumstances. See more »


After leaving Daphne, Laurent's belt changes three times. See more »


Referenced in Spanking the Monkey (1994) See more »

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User Reviews

not as light as I totally expected, but with enough life and vibrancy to keep it from being dark either
25 November 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I wonder what Freudians would think of the relationship between Laurent (Benoit Ferreux) and Clara Chevalier (Lea Massari), son and mother, who for half the film are basically on their own as the son gets treatment for a heart ailment. Maybe it's hard to think anything about this, or to put such an easy label as 'oedipal' on this whole psychological criss-cross. But what's hard to deny is how much liveliness is in possibly Louis Malle's best film (that I've seen yet at any rate). It's a tale of innocence lost, but then again in a family where it's not a high commodity anyway. Laurent is surrounded by older brothers who get him into parties with alcohol, and even to a brothel where he awkwardly loses his virginity. He also is a choirboy, does excellently in school, has an intellectual side that runs deep, and goes to confess his sins (from time to time) for the priest. But then there's something about his Mother, when he sees her get into a car he doesn't recognize or rides off with someone mysterious, that ignites his confused flame of first-hitting-puberty sexual jealousy. And it all leads up to Bastille day.

Murmur of the Heart is not a picture really bent on anything with a solid plot, as it's more concerned with the kind of European 'character study' (not that there isn't a story there to look at it). I read Ebert's review and he mentioned that the picture is more about the mother than the son. I could see where that viewpoint comes from, but I have to think that it's more about both of them, and while I watched it (as opposed to now thinking about it once its ended) it seemed more concerned with the son and perpetually through his point of view. He doesn't totally understand why his mother feels the way she does, and why she runs off to her other man, torn between leaving her gynecologist husband for him. But Malle makes it seem torn between each side when Laurent is left at the hotel while Clara is away for two days. His confusion leads him into a kind of disarray that's been hinted at before, and its made all the more clear in the tension- very underneath their games and witty remarks- that builds up.

But even with such an idea for the film, it is never really ugly or trashy. If anything, Malle does the best thing possible by making such a taboo subject realistic around the situation of family and the period. It's really wonderful seeing how Malle directs the smaller scenes, the bits that a director usually wouldn't bother with for emotional sake, or the little bits of dialog that do go on in the real world that don't necessarily have to do much with the rest of the story (one of those is when Laurent is getting washed down with a hose at the medical clinic, and the woman washing him goes on a long tangent of talk, not conversationally, just to hear herself talk). It could be tricky dealing with such mundane aspects of life such as brothers hanging out and goofing off, but there's layers of masculinity that get thrown in the mix (what are we to make of when the boys measure 'themselves' with a ruler, much to the angry housekeeper's dismay, or when Laurent tries out her mothers make-up I wondered).

All the while Malle bases these characters in an entirely plausible environment and with a cast that works very well. Massari is almost TOO alluring a woman to be anyone's mother, least of which the headstrong and vulnerable Laurent, but this works to show what her frame of mind must be too, as she gets as much attention (in a different way of course) as Laurent does from the teenage girls. The actor playing Laurent is a first-timer here ala Leaud in 400 Blows, but I even got a Bresson feeling from him, of there being a lot of emotions buried underneath his usually calm and poised expression, the kind that can be felt even with just the slightest hints. He's perfect for the kind of kid who's still a bit much in his own desires and wants to see what may happen from all of this in the long term. But the psychological implications are left even more to chance by the ending, which is one of the best moments Malle has ever directed as the family all laughs together. Not to forget to mention another big plus, the film is filled with one of the best jazz soundtracks ever put together (including Parker, Bechet, Gillespie among others), and an exquisite use of period and very tasteful way about the more 'graphic' parts of the film. Murmur of the Heart shows in tragic-comic detail the sophistication and lewd sides of the French, and draws a lot to ponder about a boy's crossover in that rotten period of 14-15 years old and of a woman who has the same mixture of unstable emotions and child-like ideals of her own blood that pull the two into what happens. In totally unconventional terms, it's 'magnifique'. A+

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