Masturbation, so often mechanically pumped on screen in the form of a punchline, takes on a devastating thematic function in Ma Mère, Christophe Honoré‘s psychosexual farce (loosely based on an unfinished Georges Bataille novella) which, at its center, resembles the primal scream which emanates from the heart of every child who finally comes face to face with the odds that their parents probably weren’t fucking for procreative purposes when they were conceived. Pierre plays the titular character’s son, a sullen and pouty-lipped little bitch (not my own words; they come from the mouth of one of the film’s loquacious characters) who, upon his return from Catholic boarding school, deals with a one-two shock to his psyche when his distant father is killed in a car accident and his mother suddenly takes an intense interest in showing her teenage emo boy the ropes of sexual dissolution. Mother, it would seem, is a whore. She cavalierly admits to her whoredom. Pierre’s devotion to his own fatigued sense of piety can’t cope with her whorey pastimes and willful temptations (and damned if the sexier-than-ever Isabelle Huppert doesn’t turn this object d’cypher role into exactly the sort of gay-son-as-Oedipus tribute that Dan Harris flubbed with last year’s Imaginary Heroes), especially in light of the revelation that he owes his entire existence to a lovemaking session between his parents that invoked a lurid dose of horse-riding imagery. Played by mop-topped Louis Garrel, who looks like the love child of Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, Pierre reacts to the unapologetically sex-centric nature of his mother’s existence, to say nothing of her increasingly forthright lustful passes, by burrowing into his dad’s porn stash and masturbating right into the magazines’ folds, as if by engaging in the most clichéd male adolescent rite of pube-passage he can recalibrate his already wildly spinning moral compass. (At least it would represent a step in the right direction, since he later reveals his sob-ridden prayer sessions are merely a self-imposed façade, erected with the latent hope for his impending corruption…and nothing says “Happy Mother’s Day” like putting your own dick in danger of being pierced by staples.) It is only the first of Pierre’s whackings off (which culminate in one of the most shockingly funny scenes of spankus interruptus I’ve seen), but the message is clear: if he means to break the cycle of incestuous relations clinging like crabs to his lineage, he’d do best to drain his balls before taking his mother up on her sadomasochistic offers.
Ma Mère looks (and sounds) a little better than it did when I first caught it on tape earlier this year: There's some edge enhancement on display and skin tones are patchy throughout, but daytime sequences are still clean and vibrant. Night shots, though, remain on the ugly-as-sin side.
Christophe Honoré talks about Georges Bataille, Isabelle Huppert, Marquis de Sade, France, morality, and Happy Together on his 16-minute interview. Also included here is a deleted scene, an interview with Emma de Caunes, a more level-headed alternate ending (if you can believe that), and theatrical trailers for the film and four other TLA titles.
Sorry to burst Eric's bubble but this one is strictly for people who see French films solely for the promise of seeing Louis Garrel flash his weiner or Isabelle Huppert put something inside her.