The Mother and the Whore (1973) at Cinémathèque
May 2013 06
Written by Nur Farhana, Jaya Khidir and Lee Zong Heung

The Mother and the Whore (1973)
Duration: 215 minutes
Classification: R21 – Sexual Scenes and Nudity
Format: 35mm
French with English subtitles
Screened at the National Museum of Singapore 
Cinémathèque as part of the World Cinema Series

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A few SGNewWave members had the unique opportunity to watch The Mother and the Whore on Saturday, 04 May 2013 at the National Museum of Singapore Cinémathèque!

What’s so special about this film appreciation outing is that we picked out by chance some lucky birds who have been attending SGNewWave’s film sessions, and brought them along with us to indulge in this very special screening which is part of the World Cinema Series organised by National Museum of Singapore Cinémathèque. To secure yourself opportunities of these kind in the future, make sure you come down for our future screenings!

The Mother and the Whore is a film produced by Pierre Cottrell, one of the pioneers of the French New Wave who was scheduled to do a masterclass with us but unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, was not able to. But, no worries because there will definitely be more masterclasses coming up!

To put things in perspective, here are reviews by some of our lucky winners and their experiences in watching the film!

Nur Farhana
Mass Communications Student, Year 1

Alexandre, a melodramatic man without ambition, ended an affair with his love, Gilberte, and soon after crushes on a stranger, Veronika, whom he met on the streets of Paris. With that happening, he too has an open relationship with Marie, whom he lives with. This eventually results in a love triangle. A scandalous French film, perhaps?

In The Mother and The Whore, one will realise that the characters always wear the same clothing, go to the same places and say the same lines; discussing about the love life they have and about making out too. This made little significance eventually, and so did the plot. It hit me that director Jean Eustache adopted the style of having no narrative. There was nothing fancy about the film; it wasn’t an elaborate one either. The plot didn’t matter much and the film aimed at only focusing on the relationship of each character as they intertwined.

The film focuses on the love Alexandre, Veronika and Marie shared. They were desperate for each other’s love and they were addicted to it. Metaphorically, their love was a reflection of the constant wine drinking and smoking of cigarettes. It was something that they craved for, something they always had to have. And when drinking makes someone do crazy and unexplainable things, their love makes them do things without comprehension too. From how Alexandre unthinkably spends his time with Veronika despite of Marie’s hatred towards her, to Marie’s lack of trust for Alexandre but yet she keeps hanging on to him and to how Marie and Veronika eventually get along in the end. Love was the only driving factor for the characters.

With the presence of three female leads – Veronika, Marie and Gilberte – the film also discusses love on the point of view of the women and not just the man, Alexandre, the main lead. This reveals the dominance of the women over the men in the film. Gilberte, who was certain that the relationship was not going to work for her, was going to marry another, leaving Alexandre idle. Even Veronika, a working nurse, pities Alexandre and insults his love life, despite her love for him. As for Marie, she is a dominant lady and it is her apartment that Alexandre lives in because he does not have a place of his own. This dominance is rather abnormal but what interests me most was how their love kept going anyway, which is rather unorthodox.

No one would want a man without any ambition like Alexandre and I’m sure Veronika, considering her promiscuousness, is not an ideal lady to be with either. But still, love motivates them. The Mother and the Whore gives us a different perspective on love. One that won’t be accepted in today’s society and looked down upon if one was to be in love with such a person. The film helps us see this kind of love in a different light and that even if the characters were to be known as “whores”, all they aimed for was just true love, just like anyone else.

I believe that the film was made well known due to it’s different in perspective compared to the modern day love story. The Mother and the Whore cannot just be understood on face level. It is also not just about watching and understanding, but more of thinking and appreciating.

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Jaya Khidir

Film, Sound and Video Student, Year 2

I was quite surprised by Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore because the narrative and usage of mise-en-scene contradicted my expectations of the film – considered to be the “masterpiece” of the director.

Shot in less than 10 locations; with the action occurring mostly in the characters’ homes and various cafes, my eyes were fixed upon the performances of the actors as they passionately talk about their sex lives and frustrations in scenes that each averaged about 10 – 20 minutes. The performances of the actors are to be applauded as they sunk into their characters’ role to the fullest throughout the three and a half hours. It is also interesting to note that all of the dialogues in the film were scripted and I am amazed by how the actors managed to convey these dialogues in a naturalistic manner.

There are some bright instances whereby the characters bring out some humour into the most mundane things in life. However, there are some parts that did not impress me, as long monologues upon long monologues exposited by the characters did not seem to contribute to the story. The strongest aspect of the film is how the characters’ views were treated equally amidst a love triangle between the three of them. This approach made by Jean Eustache is surprisingly refreshing and perhaps, it validates the 3½ hours needed to drive home this point.

Ultimately, I feel that The Mother and the Whore is an audacious film made by Jean Eustache and thus, I admire his persistence in bringing out the story without giving a damn about the audience’s expectations.

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Lee Zong Heung
Tourism Resort Management Student, Year 3

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to view the film. It was my first time watching a black and white film and what made it even more special is that it was a French film based in the 1970s! One thing I like about the film being black and white is that you are not distracted by the many colours a film usually has and that allows you to focus better on the details such as the expressions of the actors. Even though the film was three and a half hour long, the brilliant acting and the well-thought story line were what kept me in my seat till the end. I will definitely attend another one if given another chance!

(Disclaimer: All films reviewed are for educational purposes only and not meant for commercial exploitation.)

About us: SG NEWWAVE is a film club that conducts “film appreciation” sessions and post-screening critiques. These critiques are conducted and documented for educational use only. They are NOT in any way in support of any leisure or profit making activity.

This event was mentored by Course Manager of Film, Sound & Video, Michael Kam, whom guided the students in the learning points of the film after the screening. We learnt that the filmmakers kept the camera rolling because they wanted to capture every nuance made by the actors and their natural interactions with the people and environment around them. It was also fascinating because the film was in black and white and we could see the “filmic” look as compared to the digital movies that are in cinemas today. We learnt this in location filmmaking class and saw firsthand how it is applied on film.

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