Missing for years, shot down by critics on its release, this masterpiece finally comes out. His title ? La Maman et la putain, a river film of 3h40, directed by Jean Eustache, recently presented at Cannes Classics. Focus on the cult work.
It is undoubtedly one of the event releases of this month of June 2022, and we are not talking about a new Marvel or Disney blockbuster! No, it is a French film in black and white, lasting more than 3h30 and rather talkative, with the title preceded by a sulphurous reputation: The Mom and the Whoreof Jean Eustache.
This (very) feature film originally released in 1973, with a ban for those under 18, has since Wednesday benefited from a national release in a restored 4K version. This is the first official release since 1982 of this film, which has become a real cult object as it was so rare. Questions of rights, long blocked, could even have pushed the film to disappear. On the occasion of the rebirth of La Maman et la putain in theaters, here is what you need to know about this phenomenal work.
Where does the scandal begin?
But by the way, why was the film immediately surrounded by a scent of scandal? The first reason is very simple: its synopsis, and the themes tackled through this film of an extraordinary duration (3h40).
The story is as follows: Alexandre, a young idler, lives with (and to the detriment of) Marie, a shopkeeper significantly older than him. He still loves Gilberte, a student who refuses the marriage proposal he makes to her in the form of expiation. As she leaves a terrace, he accosts Veronika, an intern at Laennec. “ I let myself be approached easily, as you have seen (…) I can sleep with anyone, it doesn’t matter. Marie agrees, albeit with difficulty, to share her man with her.
I can sleep with anyone, it doesn’t matter
In view of 2022, we can be surprised at a ban for those under 18. But for the time, 1973 therefore, although May 68 had been there, this synopsis, its dialogues considered raw (the word “kiss” is used many times) and above all the underlying themes are disturbing. The film talks about free love and the love triangle. There is also a question of abortion, and the intimacy of women and their contraception, the Representation is taboo and some viewers wince, some even consider this film to be… pornographic.
It is this rage that allowed me to write the dialogues of La Maman et la Putain
Note that even before the film was shot, its genesis had been complex. Complicated genesis but which at the same time nourished the work and made it become what it has become.
In the press kit accompanying the release of the film, Les Films du Losange, its distributor, sheds light on the comments of its director on this subject: “Before shooting this film, I was in a difficult period. Everyone liked my films. I had very good reviews, and none of my films were in deficit. But nobody wanted to give me money to produce a new one.
The only ones who had given me money, so far, were Godard, at the end of filming, and the ORTF, after many discussions, because they were documentaries, so apparently without problems. This contradictory situation infuriated me. And it was this rage that allowed me to write the dialogues for La Maman et la Putain. Dialogues, or rather monologues without cutting, which piled up each day to form the base of a colossal film of five or six hours. (…) To give an idea of the need for provocation which was mine, I point out that the original title was Du pain et des Rolls.”
A Cannes Film Festival placed under the sign of provocation for French films
Detonator of the scandal, the Cannes Film Festival of 1973! During its presentation, the film does not take long to arouse controversy. Some of the critics did not spare him, starting with Gilles Jacob, film critic at the time, before becoming General Delegate of the Cannes Film Festival for many years.
Gilles Jacob does not beat around the bush, literally destroying the film, in front of its director Jean Eustache, speaking of a “no movie” by a “not filmmaker“, with a “non-actor“. He even uses the word “crappy“ thus taking up a term heard precisely in the offending film.
Despite this icy reception, La Maman et la putain won two prizes, including the Special Grand Jury Prize. Note, however, that Ingrid Bergman, president of the jury that year, opposed this choice, finding the film “despicable“. She even declared in the press that she “finds it regrettable that France saw fit to be represented by these two films, the most sordid and vulgar of the Festival ” The other Cannes film targeted being Feast by Marco Ferreri, a feature film with which La Maman et la putain shares the Fipresci prize ex aequo!
A “despicable” movie!
As Gilles Jacob sums it up well (him again!) in his Love Dictionary of the Cannes Festival, “provocative fire, (La Grande Bouffe) this grandiose requiem has become a classic of cinema, a smiling study of intestinal physiology, a visionary fable on consumer society, in all its obscenity, and on excess considered one of the fine arts.”
The day La Grande Bouffe created controversy in Cannes
The Mother and the whore also caused ink to flow following two tragic deaths. The film’s costume designer Catherine Garnier commits suicide before the film is even released. The story goes that she left this note: “The film is sublime, leave it as it is“. Jean Eustache committed suicide in 1981, at the age of 42, less than 10 years after the release of the film.
A rare film, which has become almost invisible
Like any work surrounded by a certain myth, La Maman et la putain is one of those films that many know but… without having seen it!
La Maman et la putain will attract no less than 300,000 spectators for its release in 1973. But the film will remain prohibited for children under 18 until 1981. And it is only in 1986 that it will know its first television broadcast, the non-standard length of the film does not facilitate programming for the general public.
The TV broadcasts of the film can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The last dates back almost 10 years on the occasion of a tribute paid by the Arte channel on the death of Bernadette Laffont. The film does not exist either on DVD to date (this should soon be fixed).
To see the film, only a few screenings in film libraries in France or abroad have taken place. Otherwise, pirated copies had been circulating for some time.
Before the distribution company Les Films du Losange took over the restoration and safeguarding of this film, La Maman et la putain could have disappeared. A rather complex blocking of the rights of the film indeed prevented a restoration and a new exploitation of the film.
The film’s release this Wednesday, June 8 has already met with great success, with no less than 1,500 spectators curious to discover the film in one day. Les Films du Losange have put in place a great communication campaign at the height of this cinephile event, in order to resuscitate the film.
It is therefore a completely restored version and even embellished with a deleted scene that is offered to the public. As the film’s distributor states, “this re-release of La Maman et la Putain is only the first and most emblematic step in a long process of restoring all of his work, which will be released in theaters as 2022 progresses. 2023. It will also be accompanied by DVD / Blu-ray releases and unpublished critical work.”
“For too long the burning work of Eustache has been ranked among those of the great accursed. It was urgent to show his films again, to make them scandalous again, always controversial, moving in any case, alive. There is no mother, there is no whore, and it is in the present that this film continues to want to tell us“.
La Maman et la putain is currently showing, while waiting for an upcoming DVD edition.
Top 5 – Scandals at Cannes