La Gueule ouverte (1974)

19 06 2008

It seems that before Pialat established his trademark cinema-verite style, he was already quite accomplished in formal filmmaking. Almost all of this film takes place inside and it is filmed with relatively long static shots that occassionaly pan. On the other hand, this is still very much Pialat’s film. While it may be a bit more quiet (i.e less arguing) than some of his later films, it does maintain a very similar rhythm. In other words, it feels very much like a Pialat film, even if it is, by far, his most austere work.

Philippe, a thirty-something married man, has to cope with the inevitable death of sick mother. As time progresses, her state gets worse and worse. Eventually, she becomes catatonic, which tangles up the social life of both Philippe and his father. It is slowly revealed that Philippe’s father, Roger, was not the most trustworthy husband. In fact, even while his wife is on her last breath, he is out flirting with much younger women. In a parallel situation, Philippe and his wife, Nathalie, begin to go through a rough patch in their marriage.

While the West seems to have welcomed Pialat as the “the French Cassavetes” (if only for the fact that they both make shakycam relationship dramas), with this film he seems more indebted to Ozu. After all, this is essentially an examination of family life, which almost inherently reminds one of Ozu’s work. The father character here bears an uncanny resemblance to Ganjiro Nakamura’s character in The End of Summer. In addition, there is a much more observational comedic quality to this film, which isn’t nearly as present in Pialat’s subsequent films. It is this deadpan humor that really carries the film and elevates it beyond being just a really nice film.

Of course, considering the subject matter (a dying mother), most of the comedic moments are ridiculously dark. Yet, Pialat is never condescending to his characters. While he is essentially observing their moral flaws, he never sugarcoats nor does he do the opposite. There’s a scene between Roger and Nathalie that seems to perfectly sum up the experience: Roger is complaining about having to take care of his wife, which somehow leads the two to discussing the boobs of Roger’s mistress. It is a moment full of awkward humor but also near tragedy, especially when one takes in to count the state Roger is in when the film concludes.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: