Pros: Canary Island exteriors, performers do their best with impossible parts
Cons: Bataille is unfilmable, I think; underlit interior scenes
Christophe Honoré adapted" Ma Mère" (My Mother, 2004) from an unfinished novel of (eros and death theorist) Georges Bataille. The movie is considerably kinkier than "Tadpole" (or "Murmur of the Heart") though not in the league of Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses). Isabelle Huppert plays Hèléne, "la chienne de Mediterranée" [Epinions does not permit the translations of "chienne" a term that is also applied during the movie to Pierre]. The 17-year-old Pierre (Louis Garrel) joins his estranged parents for a summer vacation the Canary Islands. He has been raised by grandparents when not in boarding school to keep him away from toxic parents who clearly did not plan or want to produce a child. (At least as Hèléne recounts it, she was raped while out horse-riding... naked.)
Pierre is a stranger to both of his parents, though more aware of his father's mistress than of his mother's wanton behavior. Pierre is also a sexually inexperienced, neruasthenic, zealous Catholic. Among the things about which Pierre is very serious is the corruption mandated by his mother (involving Emma de Caunes, who has done s&m scenes with Hèléne and with Loulou [Jean-Baptiste Montagut]). As in "The Dreamers," Garrel mixes incest, masturbation, and voyeurism. (He seems to be in danger of typecasting in outré parts that include vigorous and prolonged masturbation. Huppert, too, returns to the outré territory of sadomasochistic intergenerational relations of "The Piano Teacher." She had also played Medea just before that and has been toying with men, uncertain about what or whom she wanted, onscreen at least since the 1972's "César et Rosalie.")
In a DVD bonus feature interview, Honoré discusses trying to find out if the transgressivity of Bataille can still make sense after the sexual revolution that Bataille, who died in 1961, did not know. I think that incest may be more shocking a transgression now than when Bataille wrote, though his eros/thanatos/Catholicism triangle seems old-fashioned. Honoré also disclaims any intent at irony by ending the movie with the Turtles's "Happy Together" (which was certainly used ironically in Wong Kai-Wer's movie that took the song's tile as its title).
The sex is not graphic (much of it shot with too little light and/or too close-up to see what is going on). It is also joyless. The characters seem to like the ideas of abasement and transgression, but it looks like no fun (for them or for the viewer). The sex is cold and totally lacking in ecstasy and seems not even to bring pleasure or enjoyment to any of the participants. The ending is creepy, but puerile rather than shocking (at least in my view, those who have led more sheltered lives may be shocked earlier on). I would not recommend the film to anyone, though, as in "Salo" those who think sex is revolting might find reinforcement for the belief.
The TLA DVD disc includes two endings that are not very different (both are accompanied by "Happy Together" and the final perversity) plus a deleted scene, a trailer for "Ma mère," trailers for four other TLA releases (including "Three Dancing Slaves," which Honoré coscripted and "Mysterious Skin"), and an interview with Emma de Caunes. The interview with Honoré about his intentions (failed though they were) is the most interesting part of the disc.
I passed the time during the movie trying to decide whether Louis Garrel is handsome or ugly. (There is no question that his hair is disheveled throughout the movie.) He is not conventionally handsome, but his face has a Renaissance look—with a thin upper lip and thick eyebrows close to his big and intense eyes and with multiple moles‚that is at least interesting.) Huppert and de Caunes are conventionally attractive. And there was a scene of sand blowing in the dunes that I liked.
©2006, Stephen O. Murray