At 15, Laurent Chevalier (Benoît Ferraux) is coming of age in Dijon of the early 1950s. Coming of age might understate things since Laurent is the bourgeois son of bourgeois parents with two sexually mischievous older brothers. He’d like to think he’s older than he is. His doctor father doesn’t care how he develops, a priest would love to fondle him comprehensively, and his young and beautiful mother Clara (Lea Massari) — who’s having an extramarital affair — dotes on him. So what’s the climax of Louis Malle’s little masterpiece? Incest. Loving, adorable incest.
When Laurent is diagnosed with a heart murmur, he’s sent to the seaside. There, Clara talks to him, tends to him, and befriends him in a way that suddenly and non-salaciously merges the mother-son bond with a genuine desire to “settle” an outstanding piece of her son’s adolescence. When released, Malle’s partly autobiographical movie got its share of shock and awe. But the incest, shocking because it’s territory usually reserved (on film) for fathers and daughters, is Malle uncanny way of providing crowning insight into the peculiar but loving family he’s created. A benevolent movie, perhaps Malle’s finest and most sincere.