- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2005

“Ma Mere,” a tediously sordid French import at the Landmark E Street Cinema, has nothing to do with motherhood as commonly observed and understood.

Isabelle Huppert, an old reliable when it comes to portraying deranged characters, is cast as a famished, self-destructive specimen named Helene, whose ostensible maternal instincts have been effaced by terminal depravity before we meet her.

A lady of seaside leisure on the Canary Islands, she confesses a life of sexual squalor to her teenage son, Pierre (Louis Garrel), soon after she becomes a widow.

The dearly departed spouse, a textbook example of the thankless role, is played by Philippe Duclos, who bears a curious resemblance to Andy Warhol. The poor dear seems to have been subsidizing a notorious freak show in Helene and her sidekicks, later introduced as corrupting influences on Pierre. An alleged seminary education makes him an irresistible target.

Perhaps in keeping with the spirit of the source material, a vintage novel by Georges Bataille (who was inclined to belabor pornographic preoccupations), Helene’s methods of coercing Pierre into her orgy circle are more grueling than risible. A crony called Rea (Joana Preiss), reputed to be the wildest she-cat south of the Azores, enjoys sneering at the pup and then molests him in public, evidently the sort of thing that’s done in remote Spanish resorts. A more disarming type called Hansi (Emma de Caunes) shows pangs of conscience while tutoring Pierre in beginning bondage and whipcraft.



The helpers set the stage for a finale that will unite mother and son in something or other you’d rather not witness. Mercifully, director Christophe Honore (an ironic name under the circumstances) lights the naked incestuous consummation so dimly that it’s impossible to discern much in particular, apart from a reprise of Miss Huppert’s slashing fetish from “The Piano Teacher” five years ago.

To be fair, “Ma Mere” isn’t without its edifying aspects. The wages of sin in Helene’s case are certainly death. And it appears that Mr. Honore’s idea of a wow finish is to depict Pierre going insane during the act of masturbation. You can’t accuse the movie of taking vice lightly, but it would have been preferable to skip the subject entirely.

1/2*

TITLE: “Ma Mere”

RATING: NC-17 (adult subject matter; thematic preoccupation with sexual depravity; occasional profanity, nudity and explicit depiction)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Christophe Honore. Based on a novel by Georges Bataille. Cinematography by Helene Louvart. Production design by Laurent Allaire. Costume design by Pierre Canitrot. In French and Spanish with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

WEB SITE: www.mamerethemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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