August 7, 2013
The Mother and the Whore (1973)
Grade: 54/100

Director: Jean Eustache
Stars: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Françoise Lebrun, Bernadette Lafont

What it's about. A black and white French language film set in Paris. Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is an unemployed twenty-something who spends his days chain-smoking in cafés and his nights romancing Marie (Bernadette Lafont), a dress shop owner and an attractive brunette. Marie is kind enough to allow Alexandre to live in her apartment, and apparently gives him a stipend to dissipate during the day.

However, the talkative, self-centered, and pseudo-intellectual Alexandre is not especially in love with his keeper. At the beginning of the film, he pursues cheerless college student Gilberte (Isabelle Weingarten) to propose marriage, but she will have none of it. Apparently, they had lived together previously, and she became pregnant, but he had struck her during a fit of temper, and she dumped him and had an abortion.

On the rebound, Alexandre picks up Veronika (Françoise Lebrun), a promiscuous and demanding nurse. Veronika's need for sex is such that she begins spending nights at Marie's apartment, with the increasingly withdrawn and frustrated Alexandre vainly attempting to placate both Veronika's nymphomania and Marie's jealousy.

How others will see it. This film is considered a French cinema classic. It benefits from the presence of Léaud, a well known moviestar since his juvenile appearance in The 400 Blows. It failed to make an immediate stir in the States, but in France, it won the FIPRESCI Prize and the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes.

Not everyone can tolerate the movie, which drones on for 3 1/2 hours and consists mostly of an interminable series of conversations. Nonetheless, it has managed to generate more than 2200 user votes at User ratings are high at 7.7 but decline with age (from 8.0 under 30 to 6.8 over 45). Women give it lower grades than do men, but the gender gap narrows in older demographics.

How I felt about it. It is a good thing for Jean Eustache that he directed The Mother and the Whore, or he would be forgotten today. He made only one other feature before committing suicide at the age of 42. Perhaps his premature and unfortunate death has played a role in critical and public acceptance of the present film.

But, more likely, the film is moderately popular today because of Léaud's presence and its 'R'-rated sexual dialogue, which is either vulgar or frank depending upon whether it triggers the greater response from your Child or Parent.

Regarding the title puzzle, it would seem that the whore must be Alexandre, since he is having sex with Marie and getting paid for it in kind. There is no mother.

Regarding the plot, such as it is, Veronika is a needy person and sees the unemployed and loquacious Alexandre as the solution. She has a reliable income as a nurse, and doesn't need money from a lover. What she does need is a man who will react when she yanks his chain, and since she is smarter than Alexandre, she can always come up with another method of provoking the desired response. She doesn't see Marie as an obstacle, but rather, another person she can play games with while waiting for Alexandre to devote himself to her.

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