Few filmmakers could rival Maurice Pialat’s facility for transforming autobiographical material into the stuff of Art, and his third feature-film, La Gueule ouverte (The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug), stands as one of the director’s most intensely personal — and most lacerating — works. It is a film about illness: a condition of the body, and a name for the capacity to injure the ones who love us most.
Monique Mélinand (a star of several of Raúl Ruíz’s ’90s works, and of Jacques Rivette’s Jeanne la pucelle) portrays a woman in the late stages of terminal illness. She — and her prone body — become the locus around which gather her son Philippe (Truffaut-veteran Philippe Léotard), his wife Nathalie (French screen icon Nathalie Baye, in one of her earliest roles), and Monique’s husband Roger (Hubert Deschamps, of Pialat’s early short Janine, and Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le métro). In short order, Monique recedes into the background of Philippe’s and Roger’s network of respective adulteries. But as the final, crushingly eloquent succession of shots starts to unreel, we are once more reminded that, in the work of Maurice Pialat, that which seems absent ultimately makes its presence felt with terrible force. —Eureka Entertainment
Once described as the true heir to Jean Renoir’s legacy, French filmmaker Maurice Pialat is noted for his brutal, insightful portraits of the less savory aspects of family life and French society, as well as for his ability to evoke unusually powerful and realistic performances from his actors regardless of their professional status. Pialat, who is known as one of his country’s more “difficult” directors due to both his subject matter and on-set clashes, was born in Puy-de-Dôme but raised in Paris after the age of three. He started out as a painter and jack-of-all-trades and did sporadic work as an actor. In the late ’50s, Pialat became fascinated with cinema, and he got his start making short films, notably Amour Existe (1961), which won a prize at the Venice Festival.
After spending much of the ‘60s working in French television, Pialat made his feature-film debut in 1968 with Naked Childhood, a cinema verité-style drama utilizing nonprofessional actors. A study… read more
The only genuine reaction this image of a crucifix gracefully laid on a bed can elicit—at least at the point it arrives in Maurice Pialat's