Dir. Christophe Honore (2004)
A young man who’s father recently died is taken in by his mother, who introduces him to a hedonistic world of excess and sex.
Freud would absolutely love this movie. Pierre’s father has just died, and he is taken in by his mother. He starts the movie as a completely sexually inexperienced young man, which we learn when he finds his father’s pornography collection and masturbates to it. He finishes by grinding on the floor on top of the pile of porn, after which he urinates all over the material. Now, in most movies, this would be the worst that it gets. Ahhh, but not so in Ma Mere.
Norman Bates told us more than 50 years ago that a boy’s best friend is his mother, and apparently the creators of this film agree. Pierre’s mother (actually played very well by Isabelle Huppert) wants to guide her son into manhood, introducing him to her cabal of hedonistic friends. She arranges for a taxi ride carrying a woman that she knows, her son, and herself. During the ride, they both take turns sucking on the woman’s nipples, and, later, the mother watches as Pierre has sex with her. Certainly a strange set of experiences for a boy and his mother to share, and while I would normally take the attitude of “to each his own,” this one’s a bit over the line.
We see Pierre’s desire to sleep with his mother through all of his sexual experiences. It’s Oedipal at its very core. After kinda-sorta raping someone to his mother’s delight (while kissing her leg and staring into her eyes, no less), Pierre has gone over the line. Not that he was particularly averse to crossing the line before, mind you. While I’m certainly aware that the American attitude towards sex and decency is a bit skewed and puritanical compared to the rest of the world, I think pretty much everyone of sane mind and body would agree that mother/son incest is generally frowned upon. And that, in my opinion, is where this movie goes astray. It seems to want to normalize this relationship, as it desperately wants people to take it seriously, while glamorizing and normalizing a world that is, quite frankly, disgusting.
I’m a huge fan of Gaspar Noe, and I think his film I Stand Alone is one of the better (maybe best) movies to come out of the French Extremist movement. While this film shares somewhat of a plot with Noe’s work, the excellence and import is just not there. Noe’s film was about nihilism, how the world doesn’t make sense, how everyone is out to get you, and how the world hates you because, deep down, you’re really a bad person. With Ma Mere, we get a story of a dude who wants to f**k his mom, and she might want the same. Unfortunately, that’s about as deep as it gets.
While I can definitely entertain the notion that this film is an exercise in hedonistically combating grief, I think its the lack of emotion behind every one of the characters’ actions that embodies its failure to convey any real meaning behind their actions. Everyone is in it for the good time. I know there are people like that in the world, and here I do take a “to each their own” belief, but there are some things that just aren’t ok in any circumstance. The film is bizarre to say the least, and (spoiler alert, I’m sorry) when the movie culminates in Pierre’s mother jerking him off while she’s dying, and him sneaking into the autopsy room to masturbate over her corpse, I feel like we’ve kinda gone off the rails. What could’ve been a disturbing and deep look into the stages of grief and the bizarre, unsettling ways some choose to deal with it, instead turns into something that feels more like the plot of a South Park episode that wasn’t able to be shown on television.
How much is too much? How come some movies are able to portray such deviant behaviors in a compelling, though-provoking light, while others just make us want to change the channel? Well, a lot of that comes to skill in actually making a movie, and unfortunately, there’s not much to be found in Ma Mere. I guess you should perhaps find your “having sex with your mom while discovering your sexuality” movie elsewhere.