West End Blues

Pictured: a moment of repose for the women of Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978), as photographed by Sven Nykvist.  Pretty Baby isn’t generally considered to be top-tier Malle, but I found it to be an evocative and lovingly rendered portrait of an unorthodox girlhood (its main character, played by Brooke Shields, comes of age in the New Orleans brothel where her mother, played by Susan Sarandon, works as a prostitute).  Coming-of-age stories were one of Malle’s specialties, from Zazie in the Metro (1960) to Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987), and Pretty Baby is typical of his tender but unsentimental approach to the plight of lost and troubled children.  It’s also a superbly realized vision of WWI-era New Orleans, with its lamp-lit parlors and velvet cushions and a piano always in the background, playing Joplin and Jelly Roll.  You can all but smell the perfume hanging in the air.

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