“All is illusion. Set us free of this world.”
A badger on the road is run down by a small orange car driven by Lily, hiding her identity beneath a hat and bulky coat, driving through the midst of a literal battle of the sexes (with tanks and machine guns). She runs from her car after being discovered, chills for a while with snakes, millipedes and mantises before spying a unicorn then following a woman on horseback and a group of naked children running with a pig towards an old house in which she finds a bottomless glass of milk, a semi-talking piglet and rat, and an old woman with a C.B. and an alarm clock collection. So it kind of sounds like a kids’ movie, if not for all the nudity and brutal warfare, and were there some dialogue or a condescending narrator to help the viewer along.
Enter two more characters named Lily, a brother and sister played by Joe Dallesandro (the year after Dracula) and Alexandra Stewart (Mickey One, The Fire Within), both of whom I liked very much. Maybe it’s because they’re so silent, while the main Lily (Cathryn Harrison, who was 15 and had already appeared in Altman’s Images and Demy’s Pied Piper) and the old woman (Therese Giehse, in Malle’s Lacombe Lucien the year before) were hampered by the dubbing in their dialogue scenes.
nearly the full cast:
The old woman dies amidst an alarm clock catastrophe, but is alive again when the siblings come up to feed her (she sucks one Lily’s breast while Joe Lily tickles her ear). Main Lily remains in the old woman’s room for a while. A bird flutters around the room (prefiguring a later scene), and the woman talks with her rat friend (named Humphrey) and her radio, watches and mocks the girl, who eats the ant-infested christmas cheese and braves bureau snakes to flip through a photo album. Meanwhile the war outside makes itself known from time to time, and Lily finally escapes to seek the unicorn. She gets no help from the siblings, finally manages to hold an unsatisfying chat with the unicorn after ripping up some flowers as they scream in pain.
Lily plays piano while the children, some of them clothed now, sing along operatically, then is frightened by a painting of a male swordsman chopping a hawk in half while a woman weeps. Enter a hawk through the window, and Joe Lily with a sword. I hope that beautiful hawk (and the badger, and the lamb, and the snake) wasn’t actually hurt or killed by the film crew. This leads to a painful-looking sibling battle. Finally, Lily, alone in the woman’s room except for the unicorn, baring her breasts to feed it.
If there’s meaning to all this, it’s not readily apparent. The old woman outright tells Lily that she imagined the unicorn and the war, but the woman herself disappears at times. If Lily herself, or anything at all, is supposed to be “real” and imagining these events, perhaps while playing outside, or playing piano, the movie presents no evidence of this. Lily, or Louis anyway, has your mid-1970’s fascination with nature and nudity (see also: Wicker Man, Holy Mountain, Deliverance). The internet figures it’s somehow related to Alice In Wonderland, as must be every fantasy story with a young girl lead.
Luis Buñuel’s daughter-in-law helped with the dialogue, shot by Bergman buddy Sven Nykvist. “Old Lady” Therese Giehse died before this came out. I thought it was a funny misprint when the IMDB said “Director Paul Verhoeven died during the eulogy he delivered for her,” but it’s true – and this was a different Paul Verhoeven.
Movies I’ve seen by Louis Malle include noirish jazzy thriller Elevator to the Gallows, zany comic Zazie dans le metro, suicide drama The Fire Within, epic travel doc Phantom India, and now this 70’s fantasy with little story or dialogue. None of these things is like the other. I guess Malle was one of those filmmakers who liked to constantly try new things, not one who always made variations of the same movie.