Murmur of the Heart

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Murmur of the Heart Movie Poster Image
Classic French coming-of-age film has nudity, incest.
  • R
  • 1971
  • 118 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There's a youthful and spirited "living in the moment" dynamic at work here that trumps the repression of government, religion, and family. That said, adolescent delinquency is on full display -- drinking, sexy stuff, disobeying authority, and much more.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Laurent seems remarkably unscarred by the questionable behavior of those around him. His brothers are playful, but they also torture and tease him. His father is distant, his mother too close, and other authority figures are simply inappropriate.


Laurent is taunted and playfully bullied by his older brothers. Fistfights nearly break out at a Bastille Day dance where returning soldiers are intoxicated.


Strong sexual content throughout, including topless female nudity and brief nonsexual frontal male nudity, plus naked male backsides. A shocking incestuous encounter. Two brothers take their younger brother to a prostitute. A priest touches a teenage boy inappropriately on the upper thigh. Three brothers drop their pants to measure their penis sizes (the genitals aren't visible). The mother in the film is having an affair. The main character, a teenage boy, is trying to lose his virginity. A teenage boy is shown in bed with a teenage girl, unclothed but covered by a blanket. Implication of masturbation.


Characters speak freely (in French with English subtitles) about sex throughout, including using words like "hell," "dick," and "hard-on."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink wine and smoke cigarettes and cigars. Teens are shown drinking wine and acting intoxicated. The mother seems hung over. Soldiers are shown intoxicated.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that even though Murmur of the Heart is a coming-of-age masterpiece and a classic of French cinema, it's definitely not for kids. Themes of sexual awakening run throughout -- prostitution, inappropriate touching from a priest, and incest all come into play. Teens are shown shoplifting, panhandling under false pretenses, and getting drunk on wine. Parents are lax, and other authority figures are hypocritical. The movie takes a generally light approach to subjects that some might feel are too taboo for this treatment -- most obviously, incest. But for mature fans of foreign coming-of-age films like Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Fellini's Amarcord, Murmur of the Heart deserves a spot as one of the best films working within the parameters of this oft-covered film genre.

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What's the story?

Laurent (Benoit Ferraux) is a jazz-loving, Camus-reading upper middle-class 14-year-old boy growing up in Dijon, France, in 1954. His father (Daniel Gelin), a gynecologist, is emotionally distant, but Laurent'smother (Lea Massari) dotes on him as the sensitive and smart member of the family. His two older brothers are oafish delinquents who like Laurent -- but enjoy tormenting him even more. He attends a Catholic school where he's an altar boy even though he no longer believes in God; when Laurent is sent to confession, the priest inappropriately touches his upper thigh. Against a backdrop of Charlie Parker records and the French losing their colony in Indochina to communists, Laurent develops an interest in women. His brothers take him to a brothel to lose his virginity, but it isn't until Laurent is diagnosed with a heart murmur and sent to recuperate in a resort that his life takes an unexpected turn.

Is it any good?

MURMUR OF THE HEART manages to be countercultural without being heavy-handed (unique especially for a film coming out in the early 1970s). It's also existential without being particularly bleak, and humorous in spite of scenes that still shock decades after its release. His head packed with jazz, literature, and street smarts, Laurent seems to accept and shrug off what protagonists in other coming-of-age films would find traumatic. The hypocrisies of the Catholic Church, the bourgeois conventions of his father and his friends, the French losing in Vietnam, and even in a more direct way the prankish abuses of his older brothers -- none of these trouble Laurent all that much. In fact, the only thing he does seem troubled by is his mother's affair, which sets up and heightens the doting relationship he shares with her throughout the film.

This attitude, while not making the film necessarily lighthearted, does give it an incredible contrast to most coming-of-age stories, in which angst and mawkish melodrama tend to rule the roost. In spite of differences of culture and era, there's a universality to Laurent as he learns and tries pursuing what many adolescent boys want. Sex. Fun. Music. Adulthood without getting old. This is what makes Murmur of the Heart so special, placing it up there with foreign films like Fellini's Amarcord and Truffaut's 400 Blows as the best, most timeless of coming-of-age stories.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about coming-of-age movies. How does Murmur of the Heart compare to other coming-of-age films?

  • What do you think about the way the movie handles sexuality? Does it seem appropriate to the movie's time and place, or exaggerated?

  • What purpose does the background music -- bebop jazz by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie -- serve in terms of setting the movie's mood and spirit?

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