Murmur of the Heart

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Murmur of the Heart
Poster2 Louis Malle Murmur of the Heart Le Souffle au coeur.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Louis Malle
Produced by Vincent Malle
Claude Nedjar
Written by Louis Malle
Starring Benoît Ferreux,
Lea Massari
Music by Gaston Frèche
Charlie Parker
Henri Renaud
Cinematography Ricardo Aronovich
Edited by Suzanne Baron
Distributed by Orion Classics
Release dates
April 28, 1971 (1971-04-28) (France)
October 20, 1971 (1971-10-20) (Italy)
Running time
118 minutes
Country France
West Germany
Language French

Murmur of the Heart (French: Le souffle au cœur) is a 1971 French film by French director Louis Malle that tells a coming of age story about a 14-year-old boy growing up in bourgeois surroundings in post-World War II Dijon, France. The film proved to be a box office success across Europe, gaining 2,652,870 admissions in France, and even 62,172 admissions in Hungary. The film was also a modest hit in the United States, grossing US$1,160,784.


Laurent Chevalier is a nearly 15-year-old boy living in Dijon in 1954, who loves jazz, always receives the highest grades in his class and who opposes the First Indochina War. He has an unloving father who is a gynecologist, an affectionate Italian mother, Clara, and two older brothers, Thomas and Marc. One night, Thomas and Marc take Laurent to a brothel, where Laurent loses his virginity to a prostitute before they are disrupted by his drunken brothers. Upset, he leaves on a scouting trip, where he catches scarlet fever and is left with a heart murmur.

After Laurent is bedridden and cared for and entertained by Clara and their maid Augusta, he and Clara check into a hotel while he receives treatment at a sanatorium. He takes interest in two young girls at the hotel, Helene and Daphne, and also spies on his mother in the bathtub. Clara temporarily leaves with her lover, but comes back distraught after their breakup, and is comforted by her son. After a night of heavy drinking on Bastille Day, Laurent and Clara have sex. Clara tells him afterwards that this incest will not be repeated, but that they should not look back on it with remorse. Afterwards, Laurent leaves their room, and after unsuccessfully trying to seduce Helene, spends the night with Daphne.

Jazz music by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, along with books by Bataille, Proust and Camus, feature prominently in the film.


Director Louis Malle wrote Murmur of the Heart in part as an autobiography. As Malle said, "My passion for jazz, my curiosity about literature, the tyranny of my two elder brothers, how they introduced me to sex— this is pretty close to home." Malle also suffered from a heart murmur and shared a hotel room with his mother during treatment. Aside from this, the film is a work of fiction, and takes place later than Malle's true childhood.[1] Malle asserted in interviews that the incest, in particular, is fictional.[2]


The film enjoyed a positive reception from critics, with Rotten Tomatoes counting nine favourable reviews out of 10.[3] Roger Ebert gave the film a four-star review, comparing it favourably to The 400 Blows (1959), and writes that with the incest, Malle "takes the most highly charged subject matter you can imagine, and mutes it into simple affection."[4] In 1989, Desson Howe wrote in the Washington Post that the film maintained its "fresh intelligence and delicacy" and "Malle's world of sarcastic, upper-middle-class brats seems to be Murmur's most enduring creation."[2] In 1990, Richard Stengel gave the film an A- in Entertainment Weekly, writing "Almost everything about this coming-of-age story rings true, and Malle avoids any heavy-handed explanations of family behavior."[5]

In his 2002 Movie & Video Guide, Leonard Maltin gives the film three and a half stars and calls it a "fresh, intelligent, affectionately comic tale."[6] Roger Greenspun wrote a negative opinion in The New York Times, claiming "it isn't very good" and "that it could probably have been made with as much distinction by any of those directors, all equally anonymous, who specialize in urban romantic comedy (or tragedy) of a sophistication that is supposed to be peculiarly French."[7]

US director Wes Anderson cited Murmur of the Heart an influence, saying he loved the characters Laurent and Clara. Regarding the incest, he says, "The stuff between him and the mother feels more kind of romantic almost- but also taboo and scary in a way, which makes it even more seductive."[8] US director Noah Baumbach also named the film as an influence.[9]

Murmur of the Heart was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 1973 Academy Awards. It was also in competition, in the French part of the official selection, at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.[10] It was named the Best Foreign Film in 1972 at the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards.[11]



  1. ^ Michael Sragow, "Murmur of the Heart: All in the Family," The Criterion Collection, URL accessed 12 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b Desson Howe, "Murmur of the Heart," The Washington Post, 21 April 1989, URL accessed 12 July 2014.
  3. ^ "Le Souffle au Coeur (Murmur of the Heart) (1971)," Rotten Tomatoes, URL accessed 12 July 2014.
  4. ^ Roger Ebert, "Murmur of the Heart,", 1 January 1971, URL accessed 12 July 2014.
  5. ^ Richard Stengel, "Murmur of the Heart (1990)," Entertainment Weekly, 23 March 1990, URL accessed 12 July 2014.
  6. ^ Leonard Maltin, ed., Leonard Maltin's 2002 Movie & Video Guide. A Signet Book, 2001, p. 939.
  7. ^ Roger Greenspun, "Movie Review: Murmur of the Heart," The New York Times, 18 October 1971, URL accessed 12 July 2014.
  8. ^ Mark Monahan, "Film-makers on film: Wes Anderson," The Telegraph, 9 March 2002, URL accessed 13 July 2014.
  9. ^ David Denby, "Family Matters," The New Yorker, 24 October 2005, URL accessed 13 July 2014.
  10. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Murmur of the Heart". Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  11. ^ "KCFCC Award Winners – 1970-79," Kansas City Film Critics Circle, URL accessed 12 July 2014.

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