Wednesday, May 9, 2012

559. La Maman et la Putain/The Mother and the Whore (1973)

Running Time: 219 minutes
Directed By: Jean Eustache
Written By: Jean Eustache
Main Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Francoise Lebrun, Bernadette Lafont, Isabelle Weingarten, Jacques Renard


I've spent the past twenty-four hours or so, off and on, watching "The Mother and the Whore" courtesy of YouTube. It took me about four sittings (not because it was bad, but because it was nearly four hours) to finish it off, but it was ultimately a rewarding experience.

The film's main character is Alexandre (Leaud), a twenty-something, self professed intellectual male, who enjoys listening to old records, reading in the corner of a local cafe and womanizing. Alexandre spends the beginning part of the film trying to convince his ex-lover, Gilberte (Weingarten) to reunite with him. She is now living with another man and Alexandre is racked with jealousy over losing her. However, Alexandre has another girlfriend, Marie (Lafont), one that he lives with, in the midst of an open relationship. Well, it's a semi-open relationship really, as Alexandre expects to be able to date and sleep with other women, but is consumed with jealousy at the thought of Marie having another beau. When Alexandre is finally able to get over Gilberte (mostly because she informs him of her impending marriage), he meets Veronika (Lebrun). It's a chance meeting, as the two lock eyes while Alexandre is walking down the street, spotting Veronika at an outdoor cafe and, on a whim, asking for her number and getting a successful response. At first, Veronika seems uninterested - a nurse working at a hospital who has little time for relationships - but later, comes around and actually comes to love Alexandre after a night of conversation. The two go on meeting nightly, initiating sex into their relationship and driving Marie to a jealous state.

Boy, it sure doesn't sound like a three and a half hour plot, does it? Actually, "The Mother and the Whore" IS too long. There's really no reason for this film to be as long as it is, as Jean Eustache could have easily wrapped this classic example of French New Wave up inside of two hours and made it a lot more enjoyable for viewers. But I guess enjoyability wasn't the first mission of the French New Wave, now was it? This, like Godard's work, is a prime example of a filmmaker using the cinema to express ideas and opinions, as the characters here elaborate on different subjects, including sex and social situations. "The Mother and the Whore" reminded me a little of "My Night at Maud's", another film where sex played an integral role in the motivations of the characters. It also reminded me of Woody Allen's world, where relationships, jealousy and infidelity are oftentimes key points. I thoroughly enjoyed Jean-Pierre Leaud's performance here and while watching this, I couldn't help but remember his role in "Masculine-Feminine", a movie that I didn't give enough credit to. In fact, his character was very similar to the one he played in that Godard picture, an intellectual, "better than you" young man, who has a knack for bedding the ladies.

The book poses the question: What of the "mother" and the "whore" of the title? It goes on to make assumptions as to what the title could mean, but I think I have my own analysis, that I'd like to get on record. Perhaps the title - "The Mother and the Whore" refers to the roles that the two leading ladies play. If you examine Marie, for instance, you find that she really takes on more of the role of a mother to Alexandre, rather than that of a lover. She works and provides for him, most notably providing him with a roof and a warm bed, as she owns the apartment they live in together. She's there to do the dishes for him, cook for him and when a whim strikes him, he goes out looking for a girlfriend, despite having one at home (a gorgeous Bernadette Lafont, no less). On the other side, you have Veronika, who can't stop talking about and telling stories about "fucking" and by the end of the film, even reducing to comparing herself to a whore. She's obviously a woman who enjoys sex and doesn't mind who it's with. She calls upon ex-lovers, co-workers, friends and of course, Alexandre to have sex with her, whenever the mood strikes her. Together these two roles are two types of women that Alexandre lusts for - a woman to nurture and take care of him and a wild woman, one who loves to have sex and knows what she's doing in bed. In essence, Alexandre has the best of both worlds. He doesn't have to work, as he's provided for and he gets the love and attention of two women. He's a man who gets off on making his women jealous, knowing that they seethe when he's out with another and not with them, knowing that he turns them on that much. He's a very spoiled character, who thinks the world should be handed to him. This is evident in the very beginning, when he begs Gilberte to reconnect with him.

No matter how you slice it, all three souls are lost. They don't really have a clear path in life. I think Alexandre is just waiting for an older age, when he'll ultimately grow up, settle down and screw his head on right. For now, he's content with being a brat, getting his way and having as many lovers as he desires. Veronika has a content life already, a good life that she takes for granted, allowing herself to be screwed on a nightly basis and trashing her reputation. If only she'd clean up her act, she'd be all right. Marie is also fine in life, if not for Alexandre, whom she yearns for. She can't kick him to the curb, because she loves him and even when she tries to step out on him, he throws a tantrum. She won't disappoint Alexandre and she'll endure miserable circumstances to keep him satisfied, as a mother would for her child.

The film is a perfect time capsule piece if you want to take a look at 1970s France, the flats, the cafes, the streets and the sounds. I love watching French films, if only for their beautiful landscape and perfect cinematography that allows you to travel to Paris without leaving your easy chair.

RATING: 7/10  So, yeah, it's basically just too long and it doesn't warrant the length that it reaches. Otherwise it's a really good film, that I'd definitely recommend you check out, especially if you're into French films.


May 9, 2012  1:43am
LIKE 1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die on Facebook!


  1. Lowes48SuperstarMay 9, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    Sounds Like Heat, good but way too long

  2. I like your analysis of the title. Makes total sense to me.
    Ultimately, I couldn't really get into this one. Too philosophical and too long for my tastes, even though the relationships between the 3 main characters was interesting.

    1. Oh I still look fondly back on this, although I think calling it too long is very fair. Shorter and I may have liked it even more, but as it is, I don't regret my rating and may even go higher in retrospect.


SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #66: La piscine/The Swimming Pool (1969)

Running Time: 120 minutes Directed By: Jacques Deray Written By: Jean-Claude Carriere, Jacques Deray, Alain Page Main Cast: Alain Del...