Certainly one of the more controversial films to come out last year Christophe Honore's Ma Mere (My Mother) tackles a heavy subject that many might find difficult to discuss-the perverse relationship between a mother (Isabelle Huppert) and her son (Louis Garrel). Based on the edgy novel by French writer Georges Bataille Ma Mere is a perfect example of a film that will eventually be heavily compared to the classic tale of Oedipus every time its subject matter is discussed. It is indeed a difficult film to analyze.
Somewhere on the Canary Islands Pierre is living a life devoid of the attention which his peers are accustomed to. His father (Philippe Duclos) is an old and overly pretentious man who hardly has any interest in his son. His mother, an aging prostitute, is typically concerned with her clients and the carnal pleasure her profession provides. To keep him away from the swill that has taken over his family Pierre is being raised by his grandmother. But when Pierre's father suddenly dies all hell breaks loose. Pierre's mother now feels partially "responsible" for the future of her son. She quickly introduces him to one of her partners, Rea (Joanna Preiss), who in return reveals a woman whom Pierre can hardly believe is his mother. In a down-spiral world of orgies, incest, and extreme human degradation Pierre is slowly losing touch with reality.
Much has been said about Christophe Honore's latest film and judging by the extreme reactions Ma Mere has gathered so far I think that you would either have the stomach to see this film and ultimately try to put all the pieces together or, you will choose to ignore it as just another exploitative film masked as an art-house feature. If you happen to believe that the latter opinion is more likely to fit your expectations I suggest you move on and find another film which better fits your morality standards. For those willing to stay around…let's see why all the extreme criticism:
Let's begin with acknowledging that this is indeed a difficult film to endure. In fact, aside from Gaspar Noe's chilling Irreversibe (2002) and Marina De Van's Dans Ma Peau (2002) Ma Mere might be indeed one of the few films that I have seen lately which truly made me feel very uncomfortable, and for a good reason. This is a story that steps deep into a territory we don't often see explored on film-perversion in one of its most extreme forms-incest. Ma Mere is a gritty, surrealistic, and above all disturbing chronicle of a woman on the destructive path of madness and a boy who happens to be her son. Brutal, shocking, and disturbing Ma Mere is also an honest portrait of human degradation, the one which will most certainly end as a tragedy.
Ma Mere is also a film of visual contrasts. It is not a coincidence that Chritophe Honorre has chosen to tell his story set on an island where beauty is almost inconceivable. The sexual perversions which the viewer will consequently witness on the screen are that much more disturbing as they seem so exaggerated, so utterly mind-numbing. Everything in Ma Mere as pretentious as it may sound to those who have now disregarded the film has a direct visual impact which is meant to turn your stomach upside down…
However, among all the disturbing scenes of incest, orgy acts, and humiliation there is something that undeniably begs for your recognition-an excellent Isabelle Huppert who manages to pull off yet another brilliant performance which after La Pianiste (2001) I thought will be virtually impossible. I have been wrong! What Isabelle Huppert delivers in Ma Mere simply defies words. I don't quite know how else to describe her acting without risking to become an object of unfounded moralistic attacks so you will have to see and judge for yourself-her reincarnation as a woman possessed by madness is truly unsettling.
What else is left to be said about Ma Mere? I suppose only a quick answer to those who have concluded that the film has no redeeming values whatsoever? My answer…Ma Mere does not need them. After all what film would dare put a human face on a "mother" who has violated the secrecy of her own son?
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Ma Mere does appear to be PAL sourced which results in some mild "ghosting" throughout the film. I would guess that TLA International have copied the PAL Momentum Pictures UK disc which has some very similar video quality to what is present inhere. With this said, the image is not that bad after all-colors are handled rather well, contrast is at a satisfactory level, and edge enhancement rather tolerable. One thing that I did not notice with this disc is that occasionally if you look close enough you would notice that there is some mild macro-blocking (which is especially visible toward the end of the film where Pierre is sitting on the beach). Overall, not a bad image and in my opinion a steady one…which I could have graded as solid had TLA chosen to source their print properly.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Unlike the French disc which boasts a French 5.1 track the R1 US version comes only with a 2.0 option which doesn't sound bad at all. There are no substantial problems that need to be reported-I am certainly satisfied with the presentation. With optional English subtitles.
- Deleted Scene
- Interview with Director Christophe Honoré
- Interview with Emma de Caunes
- Alternate Ending
- Theatrical Trailer
- TLA Releasing trailers
Controversial, disturbing, highly-provocative Ma Mere is a film for those willing to take the risk of seeing something that moralists will disregard with a pretentious aplomb. Be warned…sanitized rated-R versions (different from the NC-17 one reviewed here) have already been dispatched to your friendly local-Blockbuster. RECOMMENDED.