Jump Cuts and Cartoon Logic: Editing in ‘Zazie Dans Le Metro’

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Zazie Dans Le Metro is a French film released during “the French New Wave” written and directed by Louis Malle based on the novel by Raymond Queneau. Zazie Dans Le Metro is the story told through the lens of a young and confident girl named Zazie and her first trip to Paris. The only thing that Zazie desires is to ride the Metro. But, when the Metro is closed due to a strike by the workers, Zazie can’t get her way, so she is about to cause any sort of mayhem that she can possibly get herself into. Zazie Dans Le Metro is a film that isn’t interested in plot and story rather instead it’s interesting lies within its tone. The film takes the viewpoint of Zazie being a bratty little girl who sees the world through a child’s eye. Malle lets this childhood viewpoint be expressed through a cartoonish tone as defined by its unique and hyper-stylized editing choices.

Zazie presents the audience a world that may look like the real world at first glance but isn’t. Slowly the director peels back the layers of this cartoon-like world much in the way Monty Python would later pay homage too. The editing is the viewers’ path into this world. The beginnings of the movie don’t really showcase this but the longer the audience visit Zazie’s world, the more cartoon-like the world becomes.

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Louis Malle begins to direct some edits that break normal filmmaking conventions. In typical filmmaking, there are certain rules (or guidelines) that most filmmakers adhere to. Some of these would include sticking to the 180-degree rule, being consistent with continuity and have a logical progression of events. These rules break gradually as the film progresses. This is first demonstrated in the dinner scene between the young Zazie and her Uncle Gabriel.

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The scene starts off quite normal. Zazie and Uncle Gabriel talk with one another, and the camera cuts back and forth between them conversing. It isn’t long where the editing switches the nature of the scene. As the conversation escalates and grows more hostile Malle directs the movie into a series of jump cuts that change the position of Zazie at the table. One moment Zazie is to the left of Gabriel and in the next moment, she is to the right of him. This represents Zazie fractured, childlike attention and moves the world of the film away from reality. This sudden reposition and jump-cutting effect is an exaggerated form of conveying a certain type of reality, cartoon-like state. Throughout the scene, Louis Malle directs the edits back to Uncle Gabriel’s wife coming into the room to deliver more food. Every time that cut happens something in the room changes. Gabriel is repositioned in the room, a new object is placed into the frame and Gabriel is on the opposite side of Zazie than he was original. Had Malle shown Gabriel get up and move around the room then real life reality would not have been broken; however, since Malle edits around the move and opts to jump cut these new elements into the scene, he abandons reality altogether in favor of a greater more liberating cartoon reality and this technique is evident in the foot chase scene in the first act of the movie.

In Zazie’s continued misadventures she comes across a rather creepy man in the streets—who ends up as a reoccurring character—who buys her a new pair of jeans and then has lunch with him. The dining scene is similar to the previous one with Uncle Gabriel. But when Zazie makes a run for it (with her pair of jeans). Zazie runs through the streets of Paris as the man chases her around. Malle speeds up the frame rate of the chase to make Zazie and her chaser move much faster. That’s when Malle showcases an expanded template of editing techniques to further move the audience away into a full-on cartoon state. It’s an unnatural choppy look that clearly shows that they aren’t running fast in a natural way but in an exaggerated form. Malle plays with speed throughout this scene. Occasionally he will slow the characters down and then speed them up once again. Functionally this technique serves as a way to disconnect further from reality. Malle does employ techniques established early in the previous reality defining scene (like Jump Cuts) but speeding up the frame rate is a new technique that is seen very apparently. This is an extra layer that further confirms Malle’s reality-bending vision.

During this prolonged chase, the scene also breaks logic in the order of events that the scene is presented. The filmmakers cut back and forth to Zazie running in place smiling towards the camera in the same location. Louis Malle does this several times throughout the chase. Why though? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from a narrative or scene structure standpoint. This also doesn’t make logical sense. Why would Zazie be standing in the exact same spot and be running in place? It can be perceived as she is imagining the chase around her and for her to make sense of her situation Malle allows her to in-vision a cartoon and fun childlike perception of the chase. The exaggerated running, jump cutting and other literal cartoon occurrences in the scene (such as an animated explosion) are all constructed from this vantage point and edited around it. Whether or not the event perceived on screen is actually happening or it’s Zazie’s imagination is irrelevant. This scene helps inform the basic fabric and construction of the cartoon nature of the film.

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If Louis Malle attempted to play this movie more traditionally and didn’t break the basic rules of editing, Zazie Dans Le Metro, wouldn’t have worked in the same cartoon-like manner. The audience would be trapped in a world where the suspension of disbelief would be stretched and broken. The scenes wouldn’t work in the same way because it would have lost that crucial tone necessary to convey it’s more cartoon-like nature in a live-action world. The experience and “DNA like” construction of the film rests within Zazie’s child wonder and the visceral cartoon experience around it. This is only accomplished by the editing of the scenes which allowed its cartoony nature to shine. Zazie is a film that works because of the implantation of editing choices such as jump cuts, frame rate adjustments, and unconventional scene construction. This type of daring filmmaking choices has defined the movie for the years to come. I know a lot of people here in North America may not have seen this movie but if you enjoy Loony Tunes or Mel Brooks or Monty Python then I think you’d really enjoy this film as well. Check it out.

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