Tuesday 29 May 2018 4am
‘The 30-Year Old Woman and the Girl Who Sleeps Around’ 2018
La maman et la putain (1973)
A Jean Eustache Film
Top 100 Films Ever Made –
This film is equal #59 with Barry Lyndon (1975), Sansho Dayu (1954) and Sherlock Jr. (1924) in the 2012 BFI Critics Poll; and equal #91 in the Directors Poll with 16 other films. This means that 7 out of 358 directors voted for ‘La maman et la putain’. 7 (others) out 358 directors also voted for 16 other films.
Wow. It’s not as big as Ben Hur (1959), but it is longer by a few minutes and by all considerations, it really is an epic, even though it set on an intimate scale. It looks like it was shot on 16mm in full view of the bustling Paris public who often seem to be aware that the actors on the streets are being filmed by a camera. It looks like low-budget filmmaking and probably is.
It’s full of dialogue, monologues, and a few songs (where the lyrics are meaningful). It has lots of opinions and explanations flowing freely for almost all of its more than 200-minutes. It is never dull. It is never tiring.
[Actually, it is tiring. It’s exhausting. But it doesn’t feel like it’s exhausting while you’re watching it, even though it is. I watched it in one-sitting with two or three bathroom breaks.]
– Philip Powers, May 2018
The talking does stop occasionally for some sex scenes which by today’s standards are very demure but are filmed in a style that is completely unselfconscious. This unselfconsciousness is sometimes at odds with the selfconsciousness of the way information is imparted at times: long speeches. And yet, the intensity of Jean-Pierre Léaud who plays Alexandre, and the subtlety of director Eustache’s informal style, makes it very real. Some people do say to someone sitting across the table from them “May I tell you something?” and then talk non-stop for ten minutes about themselves. My hand is up. I’ve done it and I tend to do it when someone really seems interested in what I’m doing. If the question they ask, or the answer to the question above – “Yes,” – has enough sincerity, I can talk underwater with marbles in my mouth. So can, Alexandre.
Alexandre is a young man who lives with a woman who is, it seems, a lot older. We’re told this several times but it turns out that compared with the age of Alexandre and the new woman in his life, a nurse called Veronika, 30-years is what they consider old.
The film begins with Alexandre and his previous girlfriend, Gilberte – unwillingly – discussing the fact that he’s still in love with her and she is now living with someone else. He tells her he is desperately in love and wants to marry her. She’s not interested. He tells her that she doesn’t love the man she’s living with now as much as she loves him, if she’d only admit it to herself. He’s very passionate and very insistent. He argues that if she and the man she lives with were really in love they’d prove it by getting married; and if she marries the guy, then he will believe it is all over between them. It appears like he’s going to relentlessly pursue her. When he’s back at his apartment it’s revealed that he’s living with a woman, Marie, who is older than him and who appears to support him. Their relationship is initially uncertain because he’s very open about the fact that he met a girl that day and asked for her telephone number because he’d like to meet up with her for a drink. This sets the scene for Alexandre and his women, and the rest of the film through numerous conversation reveals more details about all three relationships.
The viewer doesn’t know at the start what happened to break up Alexandre’s relationship with Gilberte, why he’s asking her to marry her while he’s living with Marie, and why he’s inviting new girls (like Veronika) out for a drink, if he’s living in a committed relationship with Marie, who does act very motherly towards him. It’s a tantalizing set-up and the way the movie reveals the backstories, particularly that of Alexandre and Gilberte, is very interesting.
The film is almost, literally, 215-minutes of people talking and it is taxing; but, not in a bad way. It’s very detailed in the richness of the characterisations, particularly Alexandre, because he is the hero – or anti-hero – of the film. He seems like a decent, intense, young man, but we have nothing to go on until little by little his conversations and interactions with Veronika reveal more about his character, his past and his present.
The film is one of the boldest and rawest films I’ve ever seen for 1973 and before. It’s also astonishing for its length for 1973. To conceive a film with such a broad canvas, with so much information, seems, to me, to be unprecedented. But then, I don’t know how many other boldly raw films that run for three-and-a-half hours, were made before 1973. This particular one is astonishing. It deserves it’s place in some people’s Top Ten lists and maybe even deserves it’s place in the Top 100 or Top 200 films Ever Made. It would certainly hold a place in my mind as one of the most extraordinary films released in 1973. If I went through a list of all the films I’ve seen which were premiered in 1973 it would probably easily place in my Top 10 1973 Films.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
Veronika: “News doesn’t matter to me. When I go out, I often spend the night in bars or nightclubs. I drink. It’s not important. If I meet a guy, I go with him. It doesn’t matter. I’ll screw anyone.”
Alexandre: “How long do these flings last? An hour, a night, longer?”
Veronika: “An hour, a night… Some people don’t like me.”
Alexandre: “That’s normal. Some people have to dislike you so that others may like you a lot.”
Veronika: “My neck and shoulders are soft. I have lovely breasts. And I don’t like chicks with skinny legs. Do you?”
– La maman et la putain, Screenplay, Jean Eustache