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Published March 25th, 2005 | by Michelle Thomas

Ma Mere Review

Pierre (Garrel) is a slightly odd, lonely youth. Bought up by his grandmother, he isn’t close to either of his estranged parents. His father brings him to the Canaries where his mother Helene (Huppert) is living, and then returns to France and his mistress. Thrown on his own resources, Pierre is bored, and his mother offers to take him out. She also confesses to him her compulsive need for trangressive sexual encounters.

Pierre and Helene go out with Helene’s friend Rea (Preiss). In a taxi Helene fondles Rea’s breasts while Rea offers to lick Pierre’s ‘filthy bottom’. Pierre denies having a filthy bottom and Rea checks it for him while Helene watches. Pierre’s father dies in an accident, but Helen assures him that he need not cry, as long as he pretends to be unhappy in front of the servants. Pierre is torn between his desire to explore the world his mother is opening up to him and his more traditional Catholic faiths. Another night, Helene and Rea abandon Pierre and find him later, passed out in the street. Rea undresses him and has sex with him as holiday-makers stroll past. Back at the villa, Pierre takes part in an orgy with his mother, Rea, and Hansi (de Caunes), another friend of Helene’s.

Worried that things are moving too fast, and that her attraction to Pierre is growing, Helene and Rea go away, leaving Pierre in Hansi’s hands. The two fall in love, but the ghost of Helene is always between them, and when she returns, Pierre must make a choice.

Nom d’un nom d’un nom! I felt like Mary Whitehouse watching Ma Mere. Maybe I am just too British but I couldn’t for the life of me see the point of the film. It was, frankly, pretentious twaddle, hideously over-written, desperately trying to be daring and important and significant and failing miserably. Lines like ‘it only starts to be fun when the worm is in the fruit’ and ‘I wanted to live wild and free in the woods’ could partly be the fault of the translator but are still like the output of an introduction to creative writing course.

I was at a complete loss – why does anyone want to make a film about dull degenerates who can only speak in cod-philosophical ramblings? If the director wanted to make a film about mother/son incest, why couldn’t he make one about interesting people? Incest alone is not enough to make someone interesting. Helene seems to be credited with a weird power over people and yet there’s no evidence of any special charisma on screen. And what story there is makes no sense! It’s just stupid, stupid, stupid – banal and exasperating.

Isabelle Huppert is one of France’s finest actresses and she clearly likes to push the envelope, but is wasted here as slutty Helene; Louis Garrel, mostly naked in The Dreamers, gets to do the same here, spending the rest of the time sulking like a Gallic Orlando Bloom; Emma de Caunes, daughter of Eurotrash buffoon Antoine, manages to at least register as human as Hansi. A lot of the film is shot in extreme close-up, camera flailing about all over the place, as if the DoP had Parkinsons, only adding to the absurdity.

Of course, lots of people will probably hail it as a masterpiece, because it involves wanking and is about sex, death, and religion. A very Gallic shrug of indifference from this critic.


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