Milou in May

(Milou en Mai, aka May Fools, Louis Malle, France, 1989)


The setting for Milou In May is a ramshackle estate in the French province of Gers, which director Louis Malle brings alive with a hundred small, finely observed details. Old Madame Vieuzac has died, and her sixty year old son Milou (Michel Piccoli in an extraordinary performance) calls the family together to divide up the spoils.

The stage is set for an affectionate but quietly satirical portrait of ordinary greed and self-interest, with the family members at one point literally squabbling over Madame Vieuzac's corpse. More specifically, the comedy targets the discreet charm of these bourgeoisie: their small lies, evasions and sexual intrigues.

But there is something greater afoot in the wider world. Over the radio comes news of the strikes, marches and violent scenes of the period subsequently immortalised as May '68. Soon enough, this Parisian fever affects even Milou's hitherto untouched world. Local children go on strike and rename their school after Che Guevara; two truck drivers arrive on Milou's doorstep with a breathlessly excited account of the revolution.

Malle's not altogether agreeable attitude towards the events of May '68 is clearly one of smug superiority. It all looks like a fashionable middle-class illusion. Members of the family, made giddy by the spirit of change in the air, wander around stoned talking about sexual freedom and the abolition of work, while under their very nose an old farmhand keeps digging a grave for the dead woman.

Yet this slight but enjoyable film (co-written by Malle and the gifted Jean-Claude Carrière) also generously endeavours to capture the valiant idealism of this extraordinary historical moment. Ultimately, Milou In May is both an elegy of regret for the old ways that are passing, and a tentative preview of what life could be like if a whole-scale revolution ever really took place.

MORE Malle: Damage

© Adrian Martin March 1991

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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