French director Louis Malle may be best remembered for his high brow films of the 1980s like My Dinner with Andréand Au Revoir les Enfants, but he wasa chameleon who avoided covering the same subject more than once. Above all else, he sought the truth in every situation presented in his films, and pushed taboo boundaries with nearly every film he made.A wunderkind from the start, at 23 he shared directing credits and the Palme d'Or with Jacques Cousteau for the documentary The Silent World, before embarking on his first feature, Elevator to the Gallows, at 24.

While Malle was a contemporary of such French directing luminaries as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, and others, he wasn't generally thought of as part of the French New Wave. His films, for the most part, weren't elliptical, didn't necessarily push the form, and were much more focused on naturalism. Unlike his contemporaries, hedid not contribute to the French cinema magazine "Cahiers du cinéma,"and his love of documentary filmmaking put him even further at odds with the auteurs among his peers.

Malle was also quite the lothario, bedding many of his leading ladies and even forming relationships with some, and earning a reputation he found difficult to shake later in life when he settled down with Candice Bergen. He was a complicated figure, never content to rest on his laurels, and always demonstrating a firm command ofevery genre in which he found himself working.Most importantly for our purposes, Malle beat all of those aforementioned directors to the punch when it came to nudity, getting at least a two year head start on many of those filmmakers...

The Lovers (Les Amants)

Malle's sophomore feature, released in 1958, reunited him with leading lady Jeanne Moreau for a tale of a married woman involved in an affair with another man, who then commits herself to the goalofseducing an even younger man. At the film's climax, she succeeds in bedding the younger man, Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory), before deciding to leave with him in the morning, leaving her entire life of privilege behind. We get a quick flash of Moreau's left breast as she adjusts her position in bed with Bory...

But the more titillating moment comes when the two are in bed and Bory kisses his way down Moreau's body, out of frame, where the audience can presume he'sgoing downon her...

Pretty remarkable stuff considering that in 1958, American audiences were flocking to see films like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and South Pacific. The film sparked a famous obscenity case when it was released in America, eventually reaching the Supreme Court, who ruled that the state of Ohio's attempt to ban the film was in direct conflict with the First Amendment. In his opinion, Justice Potter Stewart addressed the notion that the film was pornographic, famously coining the phrase "I know it when I see it," further adding "the motion picture involved in this case is not that."

Murmur of the Heart (Le souffle au cœur)

Malle spent the 60s crafting films as disparate as1960'sZazie dans le Métro, a zany comedy, and 1963's The Fire Within, a film about a man contemplating suicide. His first film of the 70s, however, found Malle getting back to his days of pushing boundaries with this 1971 tale of a horny15-year old named Laurent (Benoît Ferreux) who may or may not be sexually attracted to his own mother.

Malle, freshly divorced fromAnne-Marie Deschodt, once again took up with one of his actresses, Gila von Weitershausen, who appears here as a prostitute that Laurent's friends pay to deflower their friend...

Much like David O. Russell's Spanking the Monkey, this film raises the specter of a son's attraction to his mother when the son gets Scarlet Fever—and subsequently the titular heart condition—and is bedridden for weeks. Laurent's doting mother Clara (Lea Massari) lavishes attention on him while he's ill, and Laurent lavishes attention on his mother while she bathes...

Unlike Russell's film, this mother and son eventually do sleep togetherfollowing some heavy drinking at a Bastille Day celebration, but the mother cautions immediately that the act will not be repeated. It's a very sexually frank film, though the content may not be as outrageous as some other films of the time. There's definitely a mischievous sexual spirit at work here which will rear its ugly head again throughout Malle's career.

Lacombe, Lucien

The Criterion Collection packaged this 1974 film as the middle part of an unofficial trilogy about Malle's youth, along with Murmur of the Heart and Au Revoir les Enfants, and there is a nice symmetry between the three. This films deals with the eponymous teenager (Pierre Blaise) living in Nazi-occupied France in 1944, who harbors a desire to join the French Resistance. When the resistance leader refuses Lucien's offer to join, Lucien turns around and offers the resistance leader up to the Carlingue—the French Gestapo.

Lucien is rewarded for this and joinsthe Carlingue, but soon becomes infatuated with France Horn (Aurore Clément) a Jewish girl living in seclusion with her father. We get a slightly obscured look at Clément's full frontal as she bathes in a lake...

As well as a shot of her ass after the two sleep together...

Things don't end well for Lucien, who eventually does the right thing and helps France escape into Spain, but he is captured by Allied Forces and executed for being a collaborator. When it comes to the French perspective on World War II, no one did it better than Malle.

Black Moon

Arguably the strangest film Malle made, this gorgeously designed and shot fantasy film is most assuredly not for everyone. Malle had proven himself a purveyor and seeker of the truth throughout his first 17 years as a filmmaker and here throws off all the trappings and goes full bore toward the same sort of artsy films his contemporaries were churning out on the regular. In her review of Black Moon, Pauline Kael proclaimed that Malle was "a sane man trying to make a crazy man's film," and this is a fairly apt description.

The film's nudity all involves two different young women named Lily who breastfeed an old, bedridden woman. The first time this happens, it's when Sister Lily (Alexandra Stewart, the future mother of his daughter Justine) preps her breasts to feed the old woman...

The film doesn't make a lick of sense and works best as a daydream, a film to get lost in without ever wondering what it all means. It was also shot at Malle's estate in France which is absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography and set design are both incredible and some of the imagery here is really haunting.

Pretty Baby

Malle made the move to America following Black Moon, producing all of his subsequent films here in the States, starting with this tremendously controversial 1978 period piece starring his then-lover Susan Sarandon and a 13 year old Brooke Shields. The film chronicles the waning days of legal prostitution in 1917 New Orleans, with Sarandon and Shields playing prostitutes working at an upscale brothel in Storyville. Keith Carradine plays a traveling photographer who makes an arrangement with the brothel's madame to photograph the girls. His photo session with Sarandon ranks among the best nude scenes ever put on film...

There's almost nothing better than watching a young Susan Sarandon perk up her own nipples before giving a seductive smile...

We also get a look at her ass as she slides into a bathtub...

The film came under fire for having nude scenes with Brooke Shields, only 12 at the time of filming, though several prominent critics came to the film's defense in once again drawing a distinction between film and pornography. Vincent Canby wrote at the time, "Though the setting is a whorehouse, and the lens through which we see everything is Violet, who ... herself becomes one of Nell's chief attractions,Pretty Babyis neither about child prostitution nor is it pornographic." Roger Ebert also said in his review that, "Pretty Babyhas been attacked in some quarters as child porn. It's not. It's an evocation of a time and a place and a sad chapter ofAmericana."

While many of the things depicted in the film were common practices of the time, the modern lens gives them the appropriate amount of horror and treats the behavior of many of these characters as despicable. This doesn't necessarily excuse the behavior seen on screen, but it seems as though not depicting it would have been anathema to the truth.

Atlantic City

MalleandSarandonre-teamed two years later for this film, which achieved much more acclaim, earning five Oscar nominations including Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress for Sarandon, and Actor for star Burt Lancaster, in easilythe best performance from the back half of his career. Though the film is a rather dour and depressing slog through the lower-class world of people doing increasingly worse things in an attempt to make their lives better.

Lancaster plays a former gangster who lives in the same apartment complex as Sarandon's waitress character, and desires her as any red blooded heterosexual man would. The film's only skin comes when Lancaster spies on Sarandon giving her breasts a wipe down at the kitchen sink...

Alamo Bay

Hot on the heels of his not particularly well-received crime caperCrackers(a remake of Big Deal on Madonna Street), Mallewas back behind the camera the following year for this drama starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan. While filmingPlaces in the Heartin 1983, Harris and Madigan were married, making this their first on-screen appearance together as husband and wife. Their intimacy off screen aided in their intimacy on screen, as they play a two minute scene in one take, with Madigan topless throughout the entire scene...


Malle's penultimate film might be his most sexually twisted. Jeremy Irons stars as Dr. Stephen Fleming an influential British government official who begins a torrid affair with Anna (Juliette Binoche) the fiancé of his oldest son Martyn (Rupert Graves). The affair between Stephen and Anna is one of wild, unrestrained passion, with the two engaging in some rather acrobatic looking sex that did very strange things for my perception of sex as a thirteen year old...

As the affair continues, against Stephen's own better judgment and them nearly getting caught by his daughter, but it comes to rather abrupt end when Martyn discovers them...

Martyn, shocked by what he discovers, does a header off the balcony and dies, ripping open all of the secrets Stephen has been trying to keep.Miranda Richardsonearned an Oscar nomination for her work here as Stephen's long-suffering wife, and she has a topless scene near the end of the film when she coldly admits that he's not good enough for her...

It's a naked moment in more than one sense of the word, and that's more or less the theme that ties all the nudity in Malle's films together. A quest for the truth that lays everything bare, including his actors. The world needs more filmmakers like Louis Malle and it's a shame his life was brought to such an abrupt end in 1995 at the age of 62. He was one of a kind and will never be replaced, and that's the biggest shame of all.

Check out the Other Directors in Our Ongoing "SKIN-depth Look”Series

Steven Soderbergh

Kathryn Bigelow

Oliver Stone

Nicolas Roeg

David Fincher

Francis Ford Coppola

Ken Russell: Part One

Ken Russell: Part Two

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Park Chan-wook

Robert Altman: Act I

Robert Altman: Act II

Adrian Lyne

Martin Scorsese

Jane Campion

Bob Fosse

Dario Argento

Wes Craven

Tobe Hooper

Todd Haynes

Danny Boyle

Stanley Kubrick

Paul Thomas Anderson

David Lynch

Brian De Palma

Paul Schrader

Paul Verhoeven


Non-nude images via IMDb