An obituary for eminent French writer Georges Bataille (1897-1962) stated that "he believed that through excess rather than deprivation one could obtain a freedom of the spirit," and in writer-director Christophe Honoré's film of Bataille's "Ma Mère" everyone believes in excess, the more wretched the better.
That they're aiming for "freedom of the spirit" is not so clear. What is clear is that graphic displays of sadomasochistic sex can be a total turn-off, no matter how serious the intent may have been on the printed page or that they're presented here with a smidgen of discreet chic, leaving the most extreme behavior to the viewer's imagination. In other words, no matter how distinguished the author of the original novel, "Ma Mère" the movie is so much pretentious Eurotrash.
Louis Garrel's Pierre is yet another pouty teenager who so often turns up in French pictures, both good and bad. He arrives at his parents' Canary Islands villa straight from his Catholic boarding school devoutly religious in spirit but caught up in mutually incestuous feelings with his coolly elegant mother, Hélène (Isabelle Huppert). Shortly thereafter his unhappy, unfaithful father (Philippe Duclos) takes off for Nice and his mistress and gets killed in a car accident.
Whereupon Hélène turns Pierre over to her own mistress Réa (Joana Preiss), in preparation for what the woman really wants out of her son.
"Ma Mère" unfolds with the utmost solemnity, and its characters are totally devoid of wit or humor and evince no interest in anything much beyond pursuing an endless round of joyless sex presented with a literalness that stops just short of hard-core porn. "Ma Mère" shows nothing most sophisticated audiences don't already know about — and don't care to see.
MPAA rating: NC-17 for strong and aberrant sexuality
Times guidelines: Sadomasochism, some graphic sexuality, nudity
A TLA release. Writer-director Christophe Honoré. Based on the novel by Georges Bataille. Producer Paulo Branco. Cinematographer Hélène Louvart. Editor Chantal Hymans. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.Exclusively at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.