You can listen to the tracks in full with a registered Spotify account, which comes for free.

The Mother and the Whore

Jean Eustache, 1973

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part Four Chapter 8

Down Roncesvalles they ride, past the Repertory Cinema. Jean Eustache, The Mother and the Whore.

̶  That’s a brilliant, brilliant movie. Would you like to go and see it with me? he asks her.
̶  Okay, but it had better be soon. My boyfriend’s getting out of jail any day now.
̶  We can go tomorrow. Do you have a babysitter for Eric?
̶  No.
̶  I’ll get my flatmate to look after him. He’s a medical student.
̶  Ah, that could be useful.

He wonders what she means.

̶  Where do you get off? he asks her.
̶  Two stops. Marion Street. Would you like to come up for some tea?
̶  Okay, thank you.

Bernadette Lafont as Marie

Françoise Lebrun as Veronika, Jean-Pierre Léaud as Alexandre

That evening they go to the Repertory Cinema to see The Mother and the Whore. Sitting beside him she smells milky, like a baby. He feels great tenderness towards her, but dares not touch her. He thinks of the guys in the line-up, all eyeing her. It must be hard to deal with, he thinks, the constant pull of sex that beautiful women elicit.

̶ Normally I only go to horror movies, she says. And any film with Marlon Brando! This will be only my second French movie.
̶ What was the first?
̶ Last Tango in Paris.
̶ I love that film!
̶ Yes, it’s fantastic, isn’t it?
̶ It’s my favourite film of all time! After the one we’re about to see, that is.

Her eyes catch the light in his.

̶  And you know what? The guy who play’s Jeanne’s boyfriend in Tango plays the lead in this film.
̶  Oh really?
̶  Uh-hm.
̶  Have you been there, to Paris?
̶  Yes.
̶  I’d love to go. Do you speak French?
̶  I do.
̶  Maybe you could teach me. I only speak German.
̶  I’d love to! And you can teach me German.
̶  It’s a deal. But only when my boyfriend’s in jail!
̶  Is he often in jail?
̶  Yes!

They look at each other and laugh. In the darkness, he steals a glance at her face, and is reassured: He knew she would either love or hate The Mother and the Whore, and by the glow on her face, he knows it’s not hate.

ON THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE

 By Richard Jonathan

In Sprague’s list of his ten favourite films that he gives Marietta as she leaves him, The Mother and the Whore  is number 3.

Alexandre: I’m just a poor, average guy. A poor, average girl wants to see me. Well, I’m happy about that and whatever happens, I won’t give it up. And you know I’m not talking about sex.
Marie: But that’s what’s coming.
Alexandre: What does it matter? Dipping your quill in one ink well or another?
Marie: Yes, but that really hurts.
Alexandre: I know.

 

Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Early 1970s. The ‘sexual revolution’ has taken place, but the heart remains a lonely hunter: Not the material of tragedy, yet from this material Jean Eustache has made a film that, while in no way tragic, attains the surpassing dignity of that form.

Veronika, the ‘poor, average girl’ that Alexandre mentions, may be poor (she is a nurse), but she is anything but average. Disrupting the couple constituted by Alexandre and Marie, she drives the film into the heart’s sombre depths, and with incandescent lucidity illuminates them.

Beyond its time and place, beyond the banality of the love triangle, what emerges from The Mother and the Whore is a vision of three people trying, like Leonard Cohen’s ‘drunk in a midnight choir’, to be free. That they do so through an excruciating intimacy filled with love, sex and alcohol gives the film its distinctive substance.

As for the form, suffice it to say that the fade-in/fade-out punctuation of time, each sequence a duration of lived experience, combines with the purity of black and white and the play of silence and sound to confer on the film its classical dignity.

But what does the film tell us of its themes—love and freedom, desire and self-deception? It tells us nothing. But it shows us everything.

‘God may be dead, but the faithful couple won’t lie down.’ Alexandre, in pursuing a relationship with Veronika, tries to realize an ideal of ‘free love’. Marie gives him her blessing. And yet, when the three of them are in bed together and Alexandre starts making love with Veronika, Marie is driven to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills. Why? The worm of love in the apple of sex? The premonition of a shared future on the verge of foreclosure? The fear of finding herself in a chain of debt/counter-debt, a game of draughts with her emotions as tokens?

‘A couple is a conspiracy in search of a crime. Sex is often the closest they can get.’ Alexandre and Marie, it seems, never found their crime. Veronika, for her part, could never settle into a couple. Alexandre, torn between Veronika, Marie and Gilberte (his ex), has lost the plot of his conspiracy. Crime, couple, conspiracy—all kaput. What’s left? Why, sex, of course! Simple, isn’t it? And yet so complicated.

 

The quotations are from Adam Phillips, Monogamy (London: Faber and Faber, 1996), p. 10 and p. 21.