Adapted from a posthumously published, unfinished novel by French author George Bataille,
MA MÈRE is the second feature directed by Christophe Honoré. Switching the setting to the
Canary Islands in contemporary times, the writer-director, the film charts the sexual initiation of
a naïf French teenager (portrayed by Louis Garrel) under the guidance of woman hand-picked
by his rather depraved mother (Isabelle Huppert).
MA MÈRE opens with the arrival of Pierre (Garrel), who has been attending a Catholic
boarding school, at the family home in the Gran Canaria. Escorted by his somewhat remote father
(Philippe Duclos), the young man is warmly welcomed by the servant Marthe (Dominique Reymond)
and more coolly by his mother Hélène (Huppert). Shortly thereafter the father returns to Nice where
he is killed in an accident. Hélène has been leading a decadent life and with her spouse out of the way,
she embraces even more deeply. It’s not long before she introduces her son to her lifestyle of drugs,
drink and wanton sex, involving everything from sadism and masochism to threesomes to lesbian sex.
Hélène has determined to initiate her son into her sexual world and allows him to discover his
father’s stash of pornography (not very well hidden in his study). She also encourages her lover
Réa (Joana Preiss) to seduce Pierre, resulting in a very public sexual encounter. When Hélène and
Réa decide to go away together, Pierre is left in the care of Hansi (Emma de Caunes), a blonde with
a penchant for S&M with whom he falls in love. Hansi, though, is merely a warm-up for Hélène who
returns to turn her attentions on her son.
While Bataille’s unfinished novel was controversial in its time (the early 1960s), many of its taboo
subjects have been addressed since then, and recent French movies like those of Catherine Breillat
have tackled similar issues to better effect. Granted the mother-son incest still is shocking, but there
seems to be so little connection between Huppert and Garrel that it almost doesn’t completely register.
Huppert is once again playing a frosty woman with perverse tastes, a part she handled to better
effect in Michael Haneke’s THE PIANO TEACHER (2001). Garrel is also playing a variation on his
character from Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE DREAMERS (2004), complete with full-frontal nudity and
sequences of masturbation.
While all involved with MA MÈRE may deserve some sort of credit for their willingness
to tackle such material, the final result is disappointing. Neither a character study nor a social drama,
the film attempts to take Bataille’s philosophical approaches to religion, sex, and death and turn
them into art. Sadly, it doesn’t achieve its set goals.
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for strong and aberrant sexuality
Running time: 110 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.