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World Cinema Series 4 May: La Maman et la Putain / The Mother and the Whore

What La Maman et la Putain / The Mother and the Whore
When 4 May 2013 (Saturday), 2pm
Where National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre
93 Stamford Road Singapore 178897

FREE for SFS Members or Reel Card holders. Get your free ticket by flashing your membership card at the SFS desk at the theatre entrance. You may ask for up to 2 more tickets for your guests if you hold a SFS Reel membership card. Non-members may sign up at the SFS desk -- we will issue membership on the spot. Free seating.



Director: Jean Eustache
1973 / France / 215 min / 35mm / Rating TBC
In French with English subtitles

The Mother and the Whore is a defining film of French Cinema that perceptively encapsulates the wave of lethargy and disillusionment of a generation who saw the ripples of the May ’68 revolution dissipate into the banal repetitions of everyday life.

Like the typical male protagonists in films of the French Nouvelle Vague, Alexandre (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud) spends his days and nights shuffling through the streets of Paris much like a flâneur hopelessly gravitated towards spaces of sociality and bohemia. Yet, times have changed, and the free exchange of ideas and the anticipation towards imminent social and political ruptures have subsided. 

Following a breakup with his girlfriend, Alexandre's sexual life is stripped bare to a petty fulfillment of desires between two women—Marie, an older woman whom he lives with and is financially dependent upon, and Veronika, a promiscuous nurse whom he picks up at a café. Within the confines of cafés and bedrooms, meandering conversations between them and their acquaintances take place in free-flowing succession. Their musings, which reveal the remnant effects of May '68 and the sexual liberation movement on their personal lives, are struck by a sense of futility, pretence, banality and a lingering ambience of despair. Yet, certain moments pass on into acutely self-conscious confessions which endow us with lucid glimpses into the characters' psyches. 

On another level, the film enacts a rigorous critique of masculinity as it gradually exposes the selfishness and pretence of Alexandre’s exploits by patiently following his viewpoint, only to expose its tedious subjectivity and his infantile nature. In one of the most revelatory moments in cinematic history, Alexandre acutely loses his sense of security and plunges into anxiety upon a disenchanting outpour of lucidity by Veronika in a shattering climactic confessional.

A bold and frank portrait of the decline of a generation, The Mother and the Whore is widely considered to be Jean Eustache’s masterpiece. Cahiers du Cinéma named it the best film of the 1970s, and the film won the Grand Prix and FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973.


Jean Eustache

Born in 1938, Jean Eustache had a short career in filmmaking but left an unquestionable mark in French cinema through a string of short films, documentaries, and two features, La Maman et la Putain / The Mother and the Whore (1973) and Mes Petites Amoureuses / My Little Loves (1974). Eustache is widely considered as the pivotal French director of the post-Nouvelle Vague era. He was partially inspired by—and received much support from—the French Nouvelle Vague, having worked with its members such as Jean-Luc Godard and Luc Moullet. However, Eustache never fully assimilated into the movement, but maintained a distanced affinity and relentlessly questioned and reinvented his approach to cinema. His films are characterised by a conflation between documentary-like observations of reality, fiction and autobiographical traits. Following an auto accident which left him partially immobilised, Eustache committed suicide in 1981.