Maurice Pialat’s ‘The Mouth Agape’ looks at death in the eye without sentimentality or embellishment

Posted on December 12, 2020


Pialat is asking: “Why should I — and by extension, my characters — be kind to Monique? Just because she is dying? But people die all the time, don’t they?”

What is death? To the dying, it’s the end of a protracted period of physical pain and mental agony. To the people around, it’s a reminder of not just the dying person’s mortality but also their own. The most famous film about death is possibly Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972), which revolves around a woman suffering from cancer. The film tells the story of this woman, her two sisters, and their servant. In his autobiography, The Magic Lantern, Bergman writes: “Death’s an insoluble horror, not because it hurts, but because it’s full of beastly dreams you can’t wake up from.” That’s a near-perfect description of what Cries and Whispers is like: a dream you can’t wake up from.

But you probably wouldn’t use the word “beastly”, for the film is so exquisitely aestheticised. For a film that deserves that word, you could turn to Maurice Pialat’s French drama The Mouth Agape (La gueule ouverte), which was released in 1974. Here, too, we have a woman dying of cancer. But the film is shockingly un-aestheticised, and if Bergman’s chamber piece was a “dream”, then this is the nightmare equivalent. The woman is Monique (Monique Mélinand). The chemotherapy is not working, and the doctor asks her son Philippe (Philippe Léotard) to take her home.

Read the rest of this article at the link above.

Copyright ©2020 Firstpost.