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Mother and the Whore, The

Director: Jean Eustache


More than three hours of French folk sitting in Left Bank cafes and apartments talking about sex may sound resistible, but the reissue of Jean Eustache’s 1973 film is without doubt one of the cinema events of the year. Here is a film that breaks down the barriers between audience and on-screen characters like no other; by the end, you quite literally feel as if you’ve lived alongside Eustache’s flawed, fumbling, enormously vulnerable trio of lovers. Jean Pierre Leaud is the man in the middle, a feckless would-be intellectual who appears to do very little with his time except pontificate in cafes and flit between two women. Bernadette Lafont is the maternal older woman who lets him share her tiny flat, even though she realises he’s also seeing Francoise Lebrun, a nurse who keeps loneliness at bay through drink and casual sex.
Shot on the hoof for very little money, the film has the almost uncomfortable intimacy of a Cassavetes, yet none of the dialogue was actually improvised. Instead, it uses the hesitations and repetitions of everyday speech patterns in a structured way to explore the personal chaos wrought on French bohemia by fashionable existential philosophies and the sexual revolution, which promised new freedoms but left individuals even more lost and confused than ever. Though Lafont’s role is the least developed, Leaud gives the performance of his career, while Lebrun works up to a climatic monologue of shocking intensity. French critics voted it the best French film of the ’70s, but it may just be one of the greatest films ever made anywhere.

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