Zazie dans le Metro is a French film made in 1961 by the director Louis Malle (Les Amants de Pont Neuf, Un Femme est un Femme, Atlantic City, Pretty Baby). Apart from the famous French actor Phillipe Noiret, its cast is almost entirely unknowns (although French pop singer Sacha Distel makes an unexpected cameo!). I caught it on Channel 4 one godforsaken Friday night in 1991 when I should have been revising for my GCSE mocks, and was completely knocked out by it. Come to think of it, I discovered most of my favourite films when I should have been revising the Spanish Civil War and "The Merchant of Venice" - The Devils, Performance, Sleuth, If... to name but a few. But I digress. Thank God, then, that Film Four recently aired it on their World channel.

Zazie dans le Metro is based upon the novel of the same name by Raymond Querneau. It is the story of Zazie, a mischevious, intellectually precocious and amazingly foul-mouthed twelve year old girl, who spends the weekend with her Uncle Gabriel whilst her mother meets up with her lover. Her Uncle, a fastidious man, turns out to be a drag queen performer and Zazie is constantly asking if Gabriel is a "hormosessual". As it happens, Gabriel lives in a flat with a stunningly beautiful woman called Albertine, but she seems to function more as Gabriel's housekeeper and haberdasher, so that issue is never resolved. Zazie's only wish is to travel along the Metro, but due to a strike it is closed for the weekend ("Bloody hell!", she curses, "How dare the bastards do this to me!") and so her Uncle has to entertain her.

Zazie outrages Gabriel and all his neighbours with her expletive-peppered forthright statements and probing questions. She constantly revels in playing upon the prejudices and hypocrises of the adults that surround her - from her Uncle, to a foolish but mysterious policeman called Trouscallion who changes identity throughout the film, and a stuck-up idealistic rich widow who keeps throwing herself at men. She has particular fun questioning the taxi driver about sex, and outrages Gabriel's landlord when she first arrives.

The film is full to bursting with cartoon-like moments of visual surrealism and sight gags, including a lengthy chase through Paris when Zazie runs away from Trouscallion after he has bought her a pair of "bloojeanses" (unconventional, phonetic-style spelling is a constant feature of both the English subtitles and the original novel) and a dizzying sequence in which the cast ascend the vertiginous heights of the Eiffel Tower. There are numerous jump-cuts and speeded-up moments that will make you jump and look twice. Often the dialogue track becomes dislocated from the visuals.

The film builds up to Gabriel's performance at the cabaret he works at. You never actually see the act, just the extravagant and crazed after-show party which rapidly descends into anarchy and chaos with a barely choreographed fight. After an eventful night, the strike ends and the characters get on the Metro and go their seperate ways. Zazie is met by her mother at the station, and her mother asks if anything interesting happened over the weekend. Zazie replies: "I've grown".

If I knew more about French new wave cinema, I'd dazzle you with some incisive information about this film's allusions and references and use words like genre, auteur and haricot verts. Quite simply, Zazie dans le Metro is quite unlike any other film you will see - although the surreal visuals seem to have been a big influence on Monty Python and others - and has the amazing ability to suck you into another world for ninety minutes and dazzle you with images and word play. The central character, played by Catherine Demongeot (I wonder what happened to her?), is spell-binding, a pint-sized anarchist that will appeal to the nonconformist inside you by generally running around winding up the adults and rebelling against anyone who tries to impose their self-appointed authority and morals. Zazie seems to share more than just her haircut with a more recent French import, Amelie!