Wednesday, April 15, 2015

La Gueule ouverte

1974, France, directed by Maurice Pialat

The more I watch and re-watch Maurice Pialat's films, the more I'm convinced that he belongs in the very first rank of directors of the past forty years or so. Whether he's working with major stars or non-professionals he extracts performances of a rare conviction and humanity, and his observational skills are peerless. It sounds like his rough cut for this film was far, far longer so the final product is the result of he paring down a tremendous amount of material, including snipping away more or less any reference to Philippe Léotard's professional life (in contrast, say, to the constant references to work in Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble -- though no-one actually works that much onscreen!). The rhythm of the film is quite similar to its immediate predecessor, constantly moving back and forth toward the central narrative of the decline of a seriously ill parent, and there are other connections with earlier Pialat films, most notably the wonderful final shot taken from a departing car -- clearly referencing one of the best moments in La Maison des bois. Like that film/series and Nous ne viellirons pas ensemble, Pialat spends a great deal of time exploring the deep tension between Paris and the provinces, one of the great oppositions in French life, though here he chooses to make Paris a virtual absence in terms of its onscreen depiction. The image above is from one of the film's most remarkable sequences, an early scene that runs an uninterrupted eight minutes or so: it's a notable technical accomplishment but also provides exceptional insight into the relationships between the film's four central characters and most particularly the mother-son pair. Filmed from a slightly elevated perspective, the two actors never directly face each other yet the scene is a kind of final confrontation as they lay bare their lives together, no subject off limits now that cancer has reared its head. 

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States