Friday, April 01, 2016
Cinema Obscura: Maurice Pialat's "The Mouth Agape"
Opening with Philippe assisting his mother (Monique Melinande) to a hospital visit, the next scene specifies Pialat's real interest. Mother and son talk in a kitchen, for what feels like an eternity in a single take, about a wide range of ideas. As their talk ends, both stand up and mother slightly stumbles, the camera barely able to keep her in the frame as son helps her up. That conversation is the only normal moment in the rest of the film. Eventually dismissed from the hospital and told to have her die in peace at home, "The Mouth Agape" follows Philippe and Nathalie (interesting how the film uses the actors real names) as they travel home to be with mother and father throughout her last days. They quarrel. Philippe has his continued moments of weakness with other women. Roger endlessly leaves the house and slips away to the local bar to have red wine and flirt with tourists. Philippe and Nathalie attempt to reconcile their differences. All the hallmarks of usual French cinema- shifting sexual loyalty, doubt, and the general 'laisssez faire' attitude about things- become the central conceit with a dark underbelly of truth. As writer David Thompson pointed out in his May/June 2004 article about Pialat in "Film Comment" which he gleaned from Pascal Merigeau's biography of the filmmaker, too much of "The Mouth Agape" was culled from Pialat's own life. His mother had died about ten years before and father, also nicknamed 'le garcu" as in the film, died just months before filming began. Likewise, actor and actress Baye and Leotard were, in fact, embroiled in their own relationship during the film, which certainly added to the frisson observed on screen. The coincidences and nods to real life seep off the screen in tragic, pulsing ways.
The Mouth Agape will be receiving a DVD release from Cohen Media in May 2016.