Ma Mere

Ma Mere

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

With freedom comes abuse.

Ma Mere investigates the prospect of moral breakdown by questioning its purpose and its value. If anything goes, what goes first?

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Pierre (Louis Garrel) is 17-years-old, at an age when choices are too arbitrary to have meaning. Love is molten, flowing through the cracks in his imagination, and sex is solitary, even when shared. He doesn't know where he's going, what he wants, why his best friend cannot be his lover.

Helene (Isabelle Huppert) remains the wild child of her youth, refusing any form of discipline, celebrating sensuality as an expression of independence. Rules and regulations are like walls of a prison. She explores the territory beyond with Rea (Joana Preiss) and Hansi (Emma de Caunes) and men who pay for the privilege to humiliate them.

The location is a Mediterranean island resort, where she has a villa close to the sea. Pierre comes over for the holidays and hangs about in a passive, brooding manner, as if the experience of boredom will lead to some kind of revelation.

Helene plays with Rea, who is younger and has the uninhibited candour of a free spirit, open to every sexual experience. She wants Rea to initiate Pierre, but she comes on too strong when he's drunk in the street early one morning. Hansi is gentler and subtler in her seduction of this beautiful boy, who doesn't know whether he's gay, or really wants to sleep with his mother, who warns him, "Desire reduces us to weakness."

The film captures the orgiastic nature of a society that has no shame. The scenes in the bars and clubs look as undone as a night on crystal meth, as genuine as a TV docudrama.

Writer/director Christophe Honore is less concerned with showing decadence in its modern context as telling Pierre's story. Although daring - some might say shocking - the film's obsession with sex is merely the language with which to speak of love, loss, fear and isolation.

The performances are exceptional, particularly by Garrel (The Dreamers) and Huppert, who moves forever closer to an absolute perfection. Ultimately, however, the audience is sucked into a void, where feelings implode and passion finds no expression except through masturbation.

For all its heat, Ma Mere has a heart of ice.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2005
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Ma Mere packshot
A teenager gets an introduction to hedonistic sex, courtesy of his amoral mother.
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Director: Christophe Honore

Writer: Christophe Honore, based on the novel by Georges Bataille

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel, Emma de Caunes, Joana Preiss, Jean-Baptiste Montagut, Philippe Duclos, Dominique Reymond, Olivier Rabourdin

Year: 2004

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France/Portugal/Austria/Spain

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