Zazie Dans Le Métro | 1960
After the cool monochrome and jazz score of L’Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud, and the Brahms of Les Amants, Louis Malle surprises with this innovative, pop-art, day-glo coloured slapstick cartoon. Possibly a little dated now, the film predates Richard Lester’s freeform anarchy by several years.
Precocious, and foulmouthed, ten-year-old Zazie (Catherine Demongeot) is dropped off in Paris, to the care of her raffish Uncle Gabriel (Philippe Noiret), while her carefree mother embarks on a cheeky weekend with a boyfriend.
Gabriel meets Zazie from the train at Gare de l’Est, Place du 11 novembre 1918, 75010 Paris, in the 10th arrondissement. The point of departure for the Orient Express (though not in the Agatha Christie film), the station is also seen in 102 Dalmatians and Amelie.
Zazie’s one great ambition is to ride the Paris Métro, but disappointingly the whole of the underground system is on strike.
So she's not impressed by being driven to her uncle’s apartment in a wreck of a car, despite Gabriel helpfully pointing out the ‘Pantheon’, ‘Les Invalides’ and several other landmarks, each of which looks oddly like the twin-towered Church of St Vincent de Paul, on rue La Fayette, to the west of the railway station.
Gabriel’s busy apartment stands above the basement ‘Salle de Reunions’ bar at 9 rue Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, off Boulevard Poissionniere, east of Bonne Nouvelle Métro, and south of Gare de l’Est.
It’s not long before the adventurous girl is off on her own investigation of the capital. The amazing, if decrepit-looking métro station which Zazie finds locked, was the old Bastille Station, one of Hector Guimard’s original astonishing art nouveau designs, sadly demolished in 1962. You’ll barely recognize the area now.
She’s comforted by the dubious Trouscaillon (Vittorio Caprioli), who buys her a pair of blue jeans in the chaos of the old flea market, Les Puces de Saint Ouen, which claims to be the largest antiques market and second-hand shop in the world. You 'll find the market located in the 18th arrondissement, to the north of Paris, on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.
The worldly Zazie constantly outwits the old lecher and the his ensuing pixillated chase of her takes on the style of a Road-Runner cartoon, complete with unexplained sticks of dynamite.
The two shopping galleries through which the slapstick chase continues are Passage Du Grand Cerf and the somewhat grander Galerie Vivienne, both in the 2nd arrondissement. Built in 1823, Galerie Vivienne has entrances from the rue des Petits-Champs, rue de la Banque and rue Vivienne and is now a registered historical monument.
The lovely art nouveau double staircase round which Zazie and Trouscaillon scamper can be seen in the courtyard of Villa des Platanes, 58-60 Boulevard de Clichy in the Pigalle district.
The vertiginous clowning on the stairs and superstructure of the, then, rather scruffy looking, Eiffel Tower is scarily impressive, and clearly filmed before the days of strict health and safety rules. The descent of the Tower’s spiral staircase is reminiscent of a similar scene in Ealing’s 1951 The Lavender Hill Mob.
With the métro not functioning, the whole of Paris appears be be in a constant traffic snarl-up, with Gabriel and an increasing entourage of eccentrics navigating their way through a jam-packed Place de la Concorde and Place du Canada.
They end up on Port de Suffren running along the north bank of the River Seine, beneath the double-decker Pont Bir Hakeim, where Gabriel is abducted by a tourist coach of buxom young women while the worldly Zazie ponders whether he might be ‘hormosessual’.
There’s a surreal blink-and-miss-it cameo from singer Sacha Distel on the bridge above. This hugely photogenic landmark was previously seen in Malle’s L’Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud, and went on to feature in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris and Christopher Nolan's Inception.
Ultimately everyone descends on the Church of St Vincent de Paul (masquerading this time as ‘Sainte Chapelle’) and ‘Le Paradis’, the nightclub supposedly alongside, where Gabriel performs in drag.
No, there’s not really a decadent club adjacent to St Vincent de Paul, but you can still see the sinuously curving passageway and staircase where Zazie, Gabriel and the coachful of tourists end up.