Jean Eustache’s ‘The Mother and the Whore’ is a time capsule of French youth post the civil unrest of May 1968

Posted on July 11, 2020

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Veronika’s sexual attitudes seem liberated, even though she doesn’t appear to have heard of “Women’s Lib” when Alexandre brings the topic up. When he explains what it is, she doesn’t seem impressed. “I like bringing a man I love breakfast in bed,” she says.

When the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas made a Top 10 list for the Criterion site, he included Federico Fellini’s La dolce vita. He said it summed up an era, a culture, a city. He said the film was of historical importance. “Maybe it is the great Italian film of that period, in the same way that The Mother and the Whore, by Jean Eustache, is the ultimate nouvelle vague film made ten years later, by someone who had been a marginal figure of the movement, and embodying a city, a time, a culture now all gone.”

“Marginal” may be right. The adjective pops up again in The Rough Guide to Film, which covers top studio moguls and filmmakers by era, genre and region. It labels Eustache the least-known of the great New Wave filmmakers, outside France. Heck, even a self-confessed fan like Michel Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, didn’t know all that much about him. Gondry said he thought of Eustache’s My Little Loves when he made Microbe and Gasoline (2015), and added, “[he] was one of the greatest filmmakers in France, but he made maybe three or four movies.” Actually, Eustache made only two narrative features: the two films mentioned thus far.

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