Monday, April 20, 2020

Maurice Pialat | La gueule ouverte (The Mouth Agape)


destined to be forgotten

Maurice Pialat (writer and director) La gueule ouverte (The Mouth Agape) / 1974

French director Maurice Pialat’s 1974 film, The Mouth Agape is an unforgiving movie about a dying woman’s death.
     Those around her, a son Philippe (Philippe Léotard), his wife Nathalie (Nathalie Baye), and her long-absent husband Roger (Hubert Deschamps) all gather around her, lying, as they have all done throughout her life, that she will be just fine—despite the doctor’s report that she is near death.
      All of them have cheated on their lovers, but are now forced to come together, however briefly, to care for the woman who has most clearly loved them.
      It is a sad affair, as they attempt to cook for her and themselves, keep up a sloppy household, while still attempting their ever-flirtatious and sexually ambiguous activities, despite their seeming attempts to hold on to the figure who has most nourished them throughout their lives.
      There is nothing sentimental here: they do not abandon their horrific pasts as they still are determined to nurse the dying force of their own existence.
       This is a film about skirting away and shrinking from the truth. The woman who is dying knows, suddenly what is happening, and has known the other terrible happenings all of her life.
        Even in her hospital suffering, she is totally aware of the abandonment that these now so-very-present males and daughter-in-law have offered her. Even if they are now there, pretending to care and love her, she knows, as they recognize, they have never been truly able to love and support her. She has nothing left but a breathing tube and an empty life, and a strong-willed ability to accept the affairs that her husband has enabled himself with to leave her behind, as well as her own son’s inability to return her motherly love.

    We don’t truly understand her family’s past behaviors, but Pialat gives us enough subliminal clues that we can recognize that she has suffered an entire lifetime of just such an abandonment that even as they attempt to assure her the she will survive, she knows she can no longer live on, particularly with her lying and cheating husband and sons. Her “mouth agape,” finally becomes a symbol of existential living, a representation of the terror she has had to suffer through most of her life.
     A bit like Michael Haneke’s Amour, without the deep love between the husband and wife, Pialat’s film somewhat brutally dissects her family’s inability to truly love the person who has, in fact, brought them into existence. Yes, these failed men of the film do still care for her, but have also totally rejected her love, or at the very least have been unable to remain committed to its existence.
    They come together so late in her life that it truly no longer has much meaning, a bit like guilty boys or mafioso figures camping out for the besieged world they are now about to face.
     When she dies, they attend the funeral with as little guilt as they can, rushing off to continue their sexual abnormalities. Pialat gives them no permission as they run off to continue their misogynistic behavior. He only makes it apparent that they are not to be forgiven for the pacts they have forged with a world outside of family love.
      This is a film about love’s failure, not its ability to sustain or provide a healthy continuance. The long-suffering wife who Monique Mélinand beautifully portrays is simply destined to be forgotten.

Los Angeles, April 20, 2020
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (April 2020).

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