The latest in this occasional series of screening intros that I've been asked to publish, here's Jean Eustache's The Mother and The Whore. This one is a bit weird, because I decided to sort of wing the last minute or so (you'll find this point denoted with an *), so the text here is more clearly organized.
Fuckboys, y’all. They’ve been with us forever. There’s just no getting around how much of twentieth century culture is built on the foundation of that special kind of insecurity that leads someone both to try and sex their way through the neighborhood while at the same time clinging to someone in a death grip of promises and misguided intentions. Now, monogamy can mean a lot of things- you’re coming to see a French film at the Belcourt, so that’s already a concept that you get, at least aesthetically. But this film, The Mother And The Whore, is focused on that cornerstone of civilization about what’s good for the goose being good for the gander, oh Sheila indeed.
We’ve all known a guy like Alexandre. Perhaps not someone coping with the collapse of their ideals following the 1968 Paris riots by dabbling in misogynist sportfucking, but I bet a decent amount of you know a former liberal thinker who let their inner reactionary out after 9/11. Or someone whose social media let out their unsuspected incel tendencies. Some folk here might even be like Alexandre, though I don’t know if it’s even possible to smoke as much as this fictional character does and still be puttering around, because if you are trying to quit smoking, tonight is not going to be the night for it. But if you’re trying to quit a guy who can’t help but disrespect you because he’s stuck on a continuum between the deepest, crippling insecurity and the most stereotypical, visceral horniness, well you are in luck. Even moreso, how a guy responds to the end of this film is a gift to the world from filmmaker Jean Eustache, because it’s not quite a pulsating neon sign or anything, but it is what we call pretty damned close.
I’m glad you got to see the trailer for the new Ira Sachs film, Passages, before this, because it is a great companion pieceto this film- there are certain speed bumps that loom before any triad, regardless of the gender expression of those within it. Although funnily enough, in depicting this situation in the age of texting and eCommunication, Passages runs ninety minutes. So some doctoral student in mathematics can actually figure out how much more quickly our lives have been greased on toward oblivion by our technology.
This is a film about a lot of things, but chiefly are pleasures and pains of conversation. And that’s why I wanted to do this little address beforehand. Because the first time I saw this, in 2010, it was thanks to friend of the Belcourt/occasional Nashvillian and brilliant artist Harmony Korine, who programmed it with his then-new film Mister Lonely. And it was a pain in the ass to make happen. The French Consulate had to be involved. Agnes B had to be involved. It was a big deal. And I appreciated the film because there are few things that make the heart go zing like high contrast black and white. But when I watched it again last October at the New York Film Festival, they premiered this restoration alongside special guest Francoise LeBrun (whom we had recently watched masterfully holding court in Gaspar Noe’s Vortex), who had been unable to attend the film’s US premiere at the 1973 NYFF because she was pregnant. So it took fifty years for New York to catch up to her. And as for me, standing here on my forty-eighth birthday, it’s not so much that time caught up to me, more that it slammed full-tilt into my ankles and left me in a state of teleological confusion with great wailing and gnashing of teeth. But what struck me was the most controversial aspect of the film.
It’s never not been controversial. This film, for fifty years now has been messing with people’s minds and senses of propriety. * But what seemed most controversial about it during the screening last October was the new subtitle translation- which I found a revelation, making the film exponentially more relatable (and mordantly funny), but which seemed to piss a lot of people off. I'm not a native French speaker, but I know hardcore cinephile, and I know the ways of consumptive sadness and the way that sexual pathology can get all up in your syntax. So we'll just say that I found this restoration of the film a revelation. And I hope it provokes a response in you that helps you find some form of catharsis.
Also, here is a picture of Francoise LeBrun at that aforementioned New York screening last year. She's the coolest.