Sunday, November 12, 2006

Late review - MA MERE

Why am I reviewing the French film, MA MERE, over two year's after its initial release? A number of reasons. First off, I watched the director's latest film, DANS PARIS at the London Film Festival and really liked it. It was a sweet, small film all about familial love with a mischievous, whimiscal shooting style. However, it stands in great constrast to Christophe HonorĂ©’s previous film, MA MERE. Both have the same director and indeed the same star in Louis Garrel. However, I feel strongly that people who like one film will not necessarily like the other. In that sense, my usual trick of linking reviews to other films by the same director wouldn't be a good indicator of interest. The other reason to review MA MERE is that we are about to see the release of a movie starring its lead actress, Isabelle Huppert in the UK - a movie called GABRIELLE. I have always held Isabelle Huppert in high regard - ever since seeing her in AMATEUR. She is one of those few actors on whom you can count for a searing performance. She also tends to choose films which are trying to explore something new or interesting rather than the usual cineplex fare.

MA MERE is an adaptation of the controversial, post-humous novel by George Bataille - a French novelist writing in the first half of the twentieth century and famous for his erotic writing. The director sets the novel in contemporary Europe - specifically in a holiday resort in the Canary Islands - the sort of resort where young Europeans come for sun, sea, alcohol and casual sex. Contemporary European sexual morality is much less restrictive than in Bataille's era and much of the material in the film will not be shocking to the open-minded viewer - graphic nudity, masturbation, S&M, group may or may not indulge or approve, but surely they have lost the power to shock?

However, the novel and film go further than this. A young man, played by Garrel, has come from France to live with his mother, played by Huppert. He was raised by his grandmother because his mother is a self-confessed "slut". Upon the death of his father the teenager finds that his father's study is stuffed with porn and becomes depressed. His mother lifts him out of this funk by introducing him to a world of casual group sex with a number of young women, and finally with herself. Strong stuff.

While the production values of the movie - the visuals and editing - are pretty poor - you can appreciate the artistic intentions of the director and actors. The sex, while graphic, is not gratuitous - it is the entire point of the novel/film. The subject is how sexual exploration is part of feeling alive and what happens when you reach such a point where nothing is transgressive and everything is permitted. What is left then? Life or death?

My problem with the movie is not its graphic content but the fact that it doesn't really get a handle on the major issues it aspires to explore. And given this failure to locate its characters' actions convincingly in their psychological development - and the poor production values - the movie does end up feeling a little empty and shocking for the sake of it - which I know was absolutely not the director's intention. I am not sure if this is a failure of the underlying source material as I haven't read the book. For sure, there is a problem with the script. At any rate, the movie is far less well-made and far less impressive than, say, Michael Haneke's THE PIANO TEACHER - which also showed Isabelle Huppert in a shocking sexual relationship underpinned by a very specific psychological state. The sad verdict is that while both MA MERE and THE PIANO TEACHER are admirably fearless, only the latter is worth watching.

MA MERE opened in the summer of 2004 and showed at Toronto and London that year. It opened in the UK in March 2005 and in the US in May 2005. It is available on Region 2 DVD.

1 comment:

  1. Does Isabelle Huppert star in anything other than kinky sex films? She was in the Piano Teacher too and she was a bit nuts in that as well.