Isabelle Huppert in Ma mère (2004)


(director/writer: Christophe Honoré; screenwriter: based on the novel by Georges Bataille; cinematographer: Hélène Louvart; editor: Chantal Hymans; cast: Isabelle Huppert (Hélène), Louis Garrel (Pierre), Philippe Duclos (father), Emma de Caunes (Hansi), Joana Preis (Rea), Jean-Baptiste Montagut (Loulou); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NC-17; producer: Paulo Branco; TLA Releasing; 2004-France-in French English subtitles)
“Eurotrash at its trashiest worst.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Eurotrash at its trashiest worst. Writer-director Christophe Honoré (“Seventeen Times Cecile Cassard”), a sometimes children’s-book writer, helms it as if the shocking contents of masturbation and incest can add up to serious psychological drama over the Oedipal attraction. Unfortunately for Honoré things only appear ludicrous, enigmatic and perverted. It’s based on the unfinished 1966 posthumously published novel by Georges Bataille. The ridiculously silly amoral fable leads to the over-the-top climax that has anguished young teenager Pierre (Louis Garrel) masturbate beside the corpse of his dead mother, Hélène (Isabelle Huppert), who cut her own throat just as they were about to consummate their incest. On the soundtrack, the Turtles’ cheery 1967 hit, “Happy Together,” cutely plays. If you dig pretentious arty pics that are vacuous, then this one should do wonders for you. It’s the kind of bizarrely humored film that had a Mother’s Day release and played on the Sundance Channel on Mother’s Day, when I saw it.

It takes place on the beautiful Canary Islands. Teenager Pierre, who is raised by his grandmother in France, arrives with his screwed-up drunken loser dad (Philippe Duclos) to spend some summer quality time alone with his dissolute mother, Hélène, in her villa, while dad rushes back to Nice to be with his mistress. The all-knowing about debauchery Hélène tells innocent sonny boy that she’s a drunk and a slut and that she doesn’t want to deny this, but be loved for these traits. Meanwhile pop has an auto accident and dies, and nobody in the dysfunctional family mourns his death. The promiscuous Hélène is a party animal drunk who sleeps with any man who wants her, which rubs the devoutly Catholic Pierre the wrong way and sends him into a depression. Mom tries cheering Pierre up by taking him to the nightspots, introducing him to his dad’s porn collection, and then introducing him to her female lover Rea (Joana Preiss), who is set to introduce him to kinky sex. Finally mom takes off to party with Rea and leaves local teenage beauty Hansi (Emma de Caunes) as a houseguest to seduce her son with her lovely ass and tell him the kinky sex games she played with his mom.

It’s filled with joyless sex and joyless characters, who help make this a joyless and suffocating film experience. Its attempt to get at what Bataille was driving at—that perverse sexual liaisons can be liberating and lead to a bonding with God, seems unconvincing as presented.