La Maman et la Putain (1973) by Jean Eustache (1938-1981) is one of those rare, incredible coincidences in the social, cultural and art history, that aside from having strictly artistic features, manage to capture the most tremendous aspects of the moment, the Zeitgeist in every sense - and in this case, though it's a very Parisien film indeed, it is a post-'68 sexual revolution impass and existential void of its heirs.
Eustache, who commited suicide after being disabled from a car accident at only 43, never revealed details from his youth or life, and was always saying that "The films I made are as autobiographical as fiction can be.” which make us think they are autobiographical. But even if Eustache really was in a threesome portrayed in the film, as Alexandre, played by Jean Pierre Leaud in a compelling post-Doinel maniere, living between The Mother figure and The Whore figure, trapped, mean, cynical, faible, ridiculously self-centered, stupid, naive, charming bluebird between two women in a sado-masochist relation, this only partly explains the phenomenon of this film.
I happened to see it on my first really independent vacation, somewhere between 17 and 18, in a small cinema in Quartier Latin in Paris, Studio des Ursulines. I remember lots of details of this event, because the film was so unusual and left an everlasting impact on me, even though my French was not so good at the time and it's 3 hrs 40 minutes long. I remember getting back home, walking a dark street, Boulvard de Montparnasse and passing the Balzac statue, questioning and reasoning in my head, what had actually happened.
Until today I don't know any more authentic and moving rendering of male/female toxic relations (apart from maybe Japanese cinema and Bergman is to me a piece of cake compared to this), with such investment of humanity at the same time. The visceral aspects of sexuality; graphique sex; vomiting; quasi-rapes; love; passion; humiliation; humanity - everything merging on the plan of two small dirty flats, 2 cafes in Paris and some few hours from the viewers lives.
and some quotation on Eustache from a critic:
In the thread of the desolate 70s, his films succeeded one another, always unforeseen, without a system, without a gap: film-rivers, short films, TV programs, hyperreal fiction. Each film went to the end of its material, from real to fictional sorrow. It was impossible for him to go against it, to calculate, to take cultural success into account, impossible for this theoretician of seduction to seduce an audience.