BAD COMPANY: THE FILMS OF JEAN EUSTACHE at Cinematheque Ontario (Jackman Hall, 317 Dundas West), from Friday (July 11) to July 17. 416-968-FILM. See Indie & Rep Film listings. Rating: NNNNN
Jean Eustache was never one to colour inside the lines.
The misanthropic writer-director emerged out of the wreckage of the French New Wave and delivered one unvarnished masterpiece in a wild career that ended when he took his own life in 1981, aged 43.
Only one of his films, Mes Petites Amoreuses, runs a conventional length, and that might simply have been in response to charges that his previous release, The Mother And The Whore, was too long.
Both features are included in Cinematheque Ontario’s retrospective of Eustache’s works – a package virtually unseen in North America.
The Mother And The Whore (Friday, July 11, 7 pm, rating: NNNNN) is a movie I’ve often heard compared to The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, evidently because both feature extremely attractive actors lounging around in various states of undress, talking about ethics and politics and stuff.This is a fair enough assessment, I suppose, except that Unbearable is Philip Kaufman’s attempt to make a Hollywood insider’s idea of a European art-house movie, while The Mother And The Whore is the real thing.
Emotionally thorny and politically aware, it’s the expansive story of a voracious romantic, Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Léaud), who courts a young nurse, Veronika (Françoise Lebrun, the director’s former lover), while already being in a vaguely committed relationship with his live-in lover, Marie (Bernadette Lafont).
Alexandre keeps up a constant flow of conversation with whoever’s in earshot – he’s always monologuing about something. But it’s Veronika who ultimately has the last word, in the devastating, lacerating aria that caps the film – a climax to which Eustache has spent his epic running time building.
Gee, wonder what Mes Petites Amoureuses is all about?
See The Mother And The Whore at the right age and it becomes an aesthetic touchstone; see it later in life and you can appreciate the director’s remarkable ability to call his characters on their own bullshit.
Eustache’s next film, 1974’s Mes Petites Amoreuses (Monday, July 14, 7 pm, rating: NNNN), is utterly conventional by comparison. It’s a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale about young Daniel (Martin Loeb), uprooted from his grandmother’s bucolic village to live with his mother (Ingrid Caven, the wife of Rainer Werner Fassbinder) and her new lover in a seaside town.
Pulled out of school and given a menial job at an auto shop, Daniel discovers the working-class life. He learns to smoke, to hang out at cafés, and to press himself up against receptive girls. Daniel has his thoughtful side, and he likes to watch American movies at the local cinema, but he’s also a teenage boy with a sackful of awkward urges, and the movie confronts these less pleasant aspects of puberty head on.
The only other title in the series to be screened for the press was Photos Of Alix (July 17, 7 pm, rating: NNNN), a puckish 1980 short that finds the director sitting down with a friend to look at her photographs – which don’t quite match up with their descriptions. It’s playing with A Dirty Story, a 47-minute drama from 1977 that seems to tread similar conceptual ground – or so the synopsis would have us believe.