I Found It At the Movies: 1973–The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache)


Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1973: The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache)

Seeing this has been one of the high points of my life as a cinephile so far. I can’t remember the name of the theater where I saw it, but it was right around the corner from the Panthéon, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. In other words, the same exact neighborhood where all the action in the film takes place.

The Mother and the Whore is one of these films that makes its own rules when it comes to time. It’s 217 minutes long, and you enter from one world and leave from another. It manipulates its environment that much.  

Aside from its unique temporal relationship, this Eustache film takes a very special approach to drama. In fact, if the film weren’t in black-and-white, it would feel more like a four-hour documentary than a narrative film. The film has no traditional structure and its scenes stubbornly–and somewhat arbitrarily–unfold with no regard for past precedent.

Eustache took his own life in 1981, but he left us with this incredible achievement. It’s one of the most personal films I have ever seen and my favorite post-Pierrot le fou French film. Some of Eustache’s other work is hard to find, but he has a major reputation in France, and if The Mother and the Whore is any indication, I can’t wait to fill in the gaps.

What moviemakers can learn: Many American movies have arrived at the point where “air” and “space” are bad things. A movie, according to most contemporary rules, must not meander or waste time. It must always doggedly thrust forward. However, many of my favorite movies, this one included, completely buck this trend and look for the beauty, depth and poignancy in unstructured, loosely-unfolded dramatic moments.    

Other contenders for 1973: I still have some titles to see, and from this year these include Federico Fellini’s Amarcord and Jacques Rozier’s Du côté d’Orouët. From this year, I really like Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, Woody Allen’s Sleeper, Orson Welles’ F for Fake and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.  I love Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon, Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. My closest runner-up is Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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