The bluntest critic was Billy Wilder, who, upon hearing that Louis Malle's project was about dreams, announced that the younger filmmaker had just lost himself a fortune. The reveries are Malle's, transferred to the screen after having bubbled up during the making of Lacombe Lucien; the title promises nocturnal mystification, though it all opens at the crack of dawn, when grass and asphalt can appear equally inseparable from the earth. A critter squeaks on the road, a car runs over it -- Cathryn Harrison, in fedora and trenchcoat, gets out and looks around, a lateral pan takes over her view of the woods until we hear the car drive away off-screen (a serenely bizarre soundtrack: radio chatter, crickets, explosions in the distance). A war of the sexes goes on as men in military gear gun down women and female soldiers torture a man; Harrison is on the run, but, burgeoning virginal consciousness that she is, pauses long enough to ponder some creepy-crawlies or the logs cracking in a fireplace. The bucolic, extraterrestrial fields lead to a cottage, where the lady of the house (Thérèse Giehse) remains bedridden, chiding her rat chum; the old woman seems asphyxiated by alarm clocks, but she just needs to be suckled by her daughter (Alexandra Stewart), who, with brother Joe Dallesandro, offers matching Janus profiles of sleek androgyny. Crawling ants over a cheese slab and a tall glass of milk in the foreground (the heroine has to reach across the screen for it) point to Lewis Carroll, a body is buried in a vision from Teorema, a pissy unicorn (marvelously shaggy and pot-bellied) elucidates a point from Images, another rabbit's hole. Joyce Buñuel's name is in the credits, but papa-in-law Luis' instinctual ferocity all but eludes Malle, who can only tastefully arrange his shots to appear to rise from the subconscious -- Liebestod is inescapably trotted out, yet the fury of L'Âge d'Or doesn't come easily to a mellow bourgeois. "The most beautiful things in the world are useless," all the same, much like Harrison in ethereal close-up ("Beautiful delusions, sweet awake desire/Never waking, never fearing"), her lips not quite matching the words. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist.
--- Fernando F. Croce