Maurice Pialat - Cinema Real
Pialat was born 31 August 1925 in Cunlhat, Puy-de-Dome France and died the 11 of January 2003 in Paris, France. Prior to his very successful career, although many of his films often didn’t do well at the box office, he had a very strong desire to be a painter. Nowhere in his career after his miss fire as a painter has he really insisted on an interest in painting other than his 1991 film Van Gogh. Even then it’s unconventional as a biopic since it essentially leaves out everything that people are expecting to see.
At the age of 16, Pialat acquired a camera and began making short films, jumping back and forth between non-fiction and narrative films. Upon watching many of his earliest works, anything pre L’Amour esiste, you see an element of experimentation that is most absent from his feature films. They’re very stylistically shot in the cinema verite style that he continued to borrow on through many of his features.
He deconstructed, systemized, and reinvented processes by breaking the rules of aesthetics with minimum lighting and austere realism. The viewer had the impression that the director invited audiences to share his fascination with melodrama but at the same time provided him with the necessary conditions to remain in full control. Often considered a chronicler than a creator, Pialat’s strength resided in the sincerity of the script as he alternated extremely diverse sequential shots: strong moments captured with a hand held camera work-to best grapple with the behavior with the behavior and the language of the characters-interspersed with often banal excerpts of everyday life. Pialat was also known for his demanding treatment of actors and his memorable bursts of wrath, which explains why, in the director’s universe, the individual always lived within close ties with society.
Although Pialat was working at the start of and during the full swing of the New Wave, his work never really coincided with the stylistic preferences of the movement. You can see hints of the style in some of his short films, primarily Janine which was written by Claude Berri. In many of the shorts he experimented with the composition of images and often loose plot lines, which is often a trait of the movement.
Isabelle aux Dombes (1951)
Pialat’s silent experimental film.
Congres eucharistique diocesain (1953) – doc
DroLes De Bobines (Funny Reels 1957)
L’ombre familiere (The Familiar Shadow 1958)
It wasn’t until 1960 where he made his important documentary short, L’Amour exsite. Pialat creates an acerbic and unsentimental, yet hauntingly poetic and profoundly engaging exposition on urbanization, alienation, reconstruction and cultural transformation in L’Amour Exsiste. Using parallel imagery of large-scale industrial and (often empty) public spaces, Pialat intrinsically correlates the alienating and demoralizing toll of rapid modernization: the uniform tracts of suburban houses that represent an illusory, yet attainable working-class measure of success; the shot of a passenger train traversing the horizon against a foregrounding image of a derelict railway car that has been transformed into a squatter’s hovel; the compromised structural integrity of pre-fabricated materials used for large-scale urban residential construction that is repeated in the image of the primitive, tinderbox construction of crude shantytowns near Paris (with the dream of a better life figuratively disintegrating in flames); the enumeration of statistical data that reflects a nationwide pattern of declining recreation and education that corresponds to the rise in abstract measures of productivity and trends toward metropolitan centralization.
A film scripted by Claude Berri (The Two of Us, Manon of the Spring) about two men, one of which is in love with a prostitute.
Jardins d’Arabie (1963)
Starting in 1964, Pialat embarked on a series of poetic short films completely dedicated to the country of Turkey all photographed by Willy Kurant (Masculin Feminin, Grin Without a Cat)
La Camague (1966)
L’Enfance Nue (Naked Childhood 1968)
L’Enfance Nue marks the feature film debut of Pialat. Part auto fiction in its reflexive tale of emotional abandonment and part social realism in its clinical illustration of the nation’s overtaxed foster care system, Maurice Pialat’s L’Enfance nue finds greater kinship with Jean Eustache’s studies on hybrid modes of representation than with a deconstructed cinéma du papa that François Truffaut’s involvement as the film’s co-producer would suggest. This intersection is established in the opening shot of a workers’ solidarity march that cuts to the image of a working class woman, Simone (Linda Gutemberg) fitting her foster son, François (Michel Terrazon) for a jacket, attempting to elicit the word “mom” from the taciturn boy after leaving the shop with their purchase. Like the young protagonist, Daniel (Martin Loeb) in Eustache’s Mes petites amoureuses, François has been placed in the custody of others by an absent mother, and the uncertainty of his place within his surrogate family surfaces in acts of displaced aggression. However, while Daniel remains in the care of biological relatives, François has been scuttled from one foster home to another, unable to be permanently placed while his mother continues to reserve her right to regain custody. Despite Simone and her husband Roby’s (Raoul Billerey) sincere attempts to welcome François into their home, his makeshift room on the stairwell landing is a constant reminder of his temporary station within the family. Frustrated by his increasingly destructive behavior and propensity to steal from shops around town, his foster parents return him to the custody of the state, where he is escorted by social workers traveling on their monthly return trip to bring back abandoned children who were not able to be placed for adoption in Paris in the hopes of finding local families willing to take them in. Placed in the care of an older couple affectionately called Mémère (Marie-Louise Thierry) and Pépère (René Thierry), François gradually begins to adjust to his new life with his older foster brother and roommate, Raoul (Henri Puff), until a family tragedy seemingly reinforces his insecurity and leads to a senseless act of adolescent mischief. By placing François’ destructive nature within the context of workers strikes that defined the sociopolitical landscape of 1968, Pialat illustrates the intrinsic connection between personal and social history. In this sense, Pépère’s chronicle of his family history as members of the resistance who were killed during occupied France not only serves as a gesture of inclusion, but also introduces the idea of rebellion as a necessary passage towards defining one’s identity and sense of place. Juxtaposed against images of transit that occur throughout the film – a train ride from Paris, an overloaded station wagon transporting abandoned children, an ill-fated passing car – Pialat reframes François’s sense of dislocation and rootlessness as an ironic act towards a newfound, if familiar identification, where home continues to represent a distant and elusive ideal.
It is often lumped into the group of other similar lost youth titles primarily that of Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Seeing the producing credit allowed in part to Truffaut doesn’t allow one to deviate from the assumption that this may be partly a copy of that film. What separates L’Enfance Nue from a film like The 400 Blows is it’s completely unsentimental depiction of youth. You find it ever more difficult to feel any kind of sympathy toward Pialat’s character, but in a way, showing no sympathy in this character reveals one of Pialat’s many intentions of the film. This film also includes one of the most disturbing sequences in cinema. In one scene we watch as Francois and his buddies dangle a cat over a banister and allows it to drop several floors down. Later we see that he makes an effort to care for the cat and nurse it back to health. The cat soon dies and Francois tosses it amongst a garbage heap on the side of a hill. This in a way represents his sentiments to his treatment of being tossed from one foster home to another. The foster sister asks as to what has become of their cat, Fang, and without words, he draws his finger across his neck with a rip gurgling from his throat.
Hailed by critics, but not so much a crowd pleaser, Pialat vowed to correct his ways and please audiences in the future. But instead, he went on to make one uncomfortable film after another.
La maison des bois (The House in the Woods 1971) – Tv Mini-series
Have yet to find this on dvd with English subtitles. There’s a French release of this that’s in a monsterous box set, but to my knowledge, there are no English subs.
Nous Ne Viellirons Pas Ensemble (We Won’t Grow Old Together 1972)
Maurice Pialat’s powerful romantic drama examines the final period of a long and ultimately unhappy affair. Jean (Jean Yanne) is an unpleasant, domineering man. Though he still lives with his wife, their marriage has been over for a long time. For six years, Jean has had an affair with the much-younger Catherine (Marlene Jobert). The dynamic of their relationship is moving it toward disintegration also, but Catherine resists it. Scenes of alternating recriminations and reconciliations unveil the anatomy of their breakup. Rare is the film in movie-history that can announce the entire movement of its ‘plot’ with its title alone. But Pialat’s second feature, Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble [We Won’t Grow Old Together] does exactly that, encapsulating all the turmoil, and the final end-point, of a couple who among themselves once made a commitment — and in living together will come to make another one yet. Jean (Jean Yanne, of Godard’s Weekend) and Catherine (Marlène Jobert, of Godard’s Masculin Féminin) are the couple whose every move charts an advancement deeper into an emotional war zone. Theirs is the classic and the tragic case of an emotional abuse centered around a perplexing, but powerful, interdependency. At last the point arrives that determines the relationship, with all its weekend holidays, its apologies and submissions, can go no further — and, in a final shot of genius, Pialat discloses all the ways in which the future might be at once liberated, and enslaved, by the past. Based on a novel by Pialat himself, and on the trauma of his own personal life in the years leading up to the film, Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble was a smash-hit at the time of its release — and yet is arguably one of the most upsetting films ever made.
La Gueule Ouverte (The Mouth Agape 1974)
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.
Passe to Bac d’abord… (Graduate First 1979)
Maurice Pialat examines the seemingly dead-end future of a number of young French teenagers living in a northern mining town, in his social-realist drama PASSE TON BAC D’ABORD. A group of friends, coming to the end of their school years, fill their days with sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Some lapse into debauchery, others enter into loveless marriages. A few even stay the course and get their diplomas, only to find their prospects are not much improved. Pialat’s vision may appear grim, but his portrait of suburban youth is haunting in its authenticity. The world sometimes seems divided into two camps: those who recall their teenage years as having been an exhilarating dream, and those who remember them as having been an infernal, nightmarish hell. With all this in mind, it might do to describe Passe ton bac d’abord… [Graduate First… / Pass Your Bac First…] as Maurice Pialat’s “The Best Years of Our Lives”, while bearing in mind all that such a description might suggest. It’s an elastic, unsparing portrait of teenage life in the suburbs of France from an era when the phrase “sixteen candles” still might have first conjured the image of flames. A group of young actors including several local unknowns — Philippe Marlaud, Bernard Tronczyk, Patrick Lepczynski, and Sabine Haudepin (once the little girl of Truffaut’s Jules et Jim), among others — make up the cluster of friends adrift beneath the twilight of their school years. There’s drama, violence, and pot-induced laughs — group holidays, indiscriminate sex, advances from teachers twenty-five years their seniors, attempted moves to Paris, and few prospects of passing the bac, the final set of exams French students take before embarking into the world to… do what? Marking the last work of Pialat’s turbulent cycle of films made in the 1970s, Passe ton bac d’abord… is the brilliant spiritual sequel to the great filmmaker’s feature-debut L’enfance nue — picked up again from a vantage ten years on from the lives of the earlier film’s protagonists.
By this time, many of the major filmmakers of post ’68 era which were either starting to die out, or would undergo a major stylistic reform. If the new wave was primarily concerned with getting rid with the classicist styling of Renoir and Pagnol, the 1980’s were about embracing those methods. Filmmakers such as Pialat, Bertrand Tavernier, Bertrand Blier, Eric Rohmer and Francois Truffaut represented that old style that they once dismissed and in the early 80’s, they were their own school of cinema.
One of the most socially and politically charged of all French productions of the early part of the decade was undeniably LouLou. This film was all the more paradoxical for a filmmaker who always refused the title of political cineaste. Although a love story, LouLou took advantage of each scene to remind the viewers of the promenece of class awareness in modern French society. Nelly (Isabelle Huppert) is a middle class woman married to a well off publicist named Andre (Guy Marchand). Together they live in a comfortable and spacious Parisian apartment. One night at a ball, Nelly meets Loulou (Gerard Depardieu), a tough thug, and immediately falls in love with him. Because Loulou seems so far away from reality, she is irrisistably attracted to him and eventually leaves Andre for Loulou, sacrificing her current lifestyle for her inner desires. While Loulou lives of Nelly’s money in exchange for sexual and emotionally fulfillment, she becomes pregnant. Nelly’s brother attempts to assist them in suggesting employment possibilities for Loulou, but the future father is in no hurry to begin a full time job. This film is far from representing a radical change in 1970’s sexuality. Trapped between decades, the film serves a rather smooth transition between the sexual freedom of the post ’68 era and the return to storytelling of the 1980’s.
A nos amurs (To Our Loves 1983)
Many filmgoers, if at all interested in Pialat will more than likely see this one first not just because it’s one of his more successful ventures, but the most widely available. In her film debut and recurring Pialat player Sandrinne Bonnaire (later of Vagabond fame) plays Suzanne, a fifteen year old Parisian who embarks on a sexual rampage in an effort to separate herself from her overbearing father (Pialat), ineffectual mother and brutish brother.
Maurice Pialat’s Police delivers on the raw promise of its title, insofar as much of its action qualifies as an insistently ‘procedural’ descent into the Paris drugs underworld. But the hyper-real route that the film takes to arrive there, before veering into a zone of dangerous emotional play, contributes to a disorienting, adventurous, and ultimately tremendously exciting experience unlike any ‘police-thriller’ ever before conceived. The iconic Gérard Depardieu (who also collaborated with Pialat on LouLou Sous le soleil de Satan, and Le Garçu) plays Mangin, a cop whose brutal method of investigation finds its obsessive outlet in an attempt to crack a Tunisian narcotics ring. It is when Mangin enters into close acquaintance with the defiant Noria (expertly played by Sophie Marceau in one of her first screen roles) that the film proceeds to chart an unexpected, emotionally ambiguous course and the lines between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and ‘power’ and ‘freedom’, terminally blur. Written with Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl, Anatomy of Hell) but relying in equal measure upon Pialat’s improvisational techniques, Police is a genre-defying excursion rivaled only by John Cassavettes The Killing of A Chines Bookine in the pantheon of cinema’s most idiosyncratic thrillers.
Mangin (Depardieu) is a man very much a product of his profession. A man shaped by violence and selfishness that he is unable to convey his feelings to other human beings. He is made to be tough and unsentimental. He is made to always be a cop. He interrogates his suspects with every intention on booking them without any evidence. He lies and he cheats the people around him, that is, until he meets Noria. In some later scenes we see the affect that Noria’s presence has had on our Mangin. He is led into a particularly dangerous situation, where in any normal circumstance, he would have blown it off, but for her, it’s different. Shortly after that scene he leaves fairly certainof their furture together, he meets a former suspect who was a victim of his brutality. Letting their differences aside they chat over a drink, an act that probably wouldn’t have occurred without this new insight on life. But as most Pialat films, nothing ever seems to turn out quite right.
Sous Le Soleil De Satan (Under The Sun of Satan 1987)
“At Cannes, I said I was an atheist, which makes no sense. The word ‘atheist’ means nothing to me. You can’t be against something you don’t believe in.”
Under the Sun of Satan opens to an inherently solemn ritual as a senior priest, Canon Menou-Segrais (Mauric Pialat) shaves a spot on the top of the head of a pensive young priest named Father Donissan (Gérard Depardieu) who, in turn, uses the occasion to express his feelings of profound estrangement and inutility from the practical concerns of their congregation. Acknowledging both his mediocre scholastic aptitude at the seminary that nearly prevented him from becoming ordained, and his indebtedness to Menou-Segrais for his admission into the parish ministry (despite the young priest’s perceivable disapproval of his superior’s spiritual resignation and complacency), Donissan nevertheless declares his intention to request the archbishop for a re-assignment, preferably to a Trappist monastery where he believes that his temperament and secular detachment would be more conducive to their contemplative, monastic life of humble (and seemingly unobtrusive) service. The film then contrasts Donissan’s acts of asceticism and mortification against the actions of a promiscuous and amoral teenager named Mouchette (Sandrine Bonnaire) who leaves home and unexpectedly appears at the chateau of her older, financially insolvent aristocratic lover, Marquis de Cadignan (Alain Artur) after an altercation with her parents over news of her pregnancy. Unwilling to entertain Mouchette’s capricious idea of running away to Paris, but unable to send the inconvenient young woman away despite her provocative admission of having another lover – a married deputy minister named Dr. Gallet (Yann Dedet) – Cadignan allows her to stay at his home and, during the course of their brief cohabitation, is fatally shot. Meanwhile, Menou-Segrais dispatches Donissan to the neighboring town of Etaples in order to assist a retiring priest during confession. Preferring to travel on foot, Donissan traverses the disorienting rural landscape throughout the day only to realize as darkness falls that he is hopelessly lost. In his exhaustion and delirium, he becomes aware of the presence of Satan alongside him who appears in the guise of a traveling horse dealer (Jean-Christophe Bouvet) and tests his faith by endowing him with the ability to see unobstructedly into the human soul. Now possessing the grace and burden of spiritual insight, the tormented Donissan journeys home and fatedly encounters an instrument of mutual salvation in the wanton and aimless Mouchette.
Adapted from Georges Bernanos’ first novel, Under Satan’s Sun (who modeled the protagonist after St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, the Curé d’Ars), Under the Sun of Satan is a stark, challenging, and uncompromising exploration of faith, spiritual service, despair, and redemption. Maurice Pialat visually juxtaposes the dark, austere, and somber hues of Donissan’s ecclesiastic environment with the warm, naturalistic hues of village life to create a visual metaphor for the dour young priest’s self-imposed alienated existence: the chromatic shift as Donissan begins his journey to Etaples and encounters a group of children playing in the street; the textural earth tones of the rolling rural landscape that contrasts against the imperceptible, claustrophobic darkness of his fevered encounter with the enigmatic horse dealer; the intimate, compositional framing of Mouchette in soft and innately sensual amber hues as she visits Cadignan and Gallet that becomes harsh, ashen, and pallid as Donnisan forcefully engages her in a soul-baring self-evaluation of her troubled existence. However, in contrast to the deeply religious Bernanos’ predominant exploration of the spiritual themes of God’s silence, the sin of complacency, and the immediacy of evil, Pialat focuses on the physical and tangible manifestations of temptation, suffering, and despair on the individual psyche. By capturing Donnisan and Mouchette’s personal journeys toward a reconciled awareness of their moral and spiritual imperfections, Under the Sun of Satan emerges, not as a portrait of transcendence, but as a tactile and provocative illustration of the real, yet indefinable essence of the human soul.
Winner of the Palm d’or at Cannes in 1987and was consequentially booed. To this date no French film had received the prestigious Palme d’or since Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman. For many of his opponents, Pialat’s cinema proved to be too academic as he all too willingly injected his own interpretation of the novel, resulting in a movie removed from filmed prose. What all Robert Bresson admirers expected to see was perhaps a coherent narrative plot, which through its complexity and depth would have exposed a certain visual eloquence with sincere subjectivity. For many critics, Pialat’s stoic portrait is an emblem of Bernano’s spiritual investigation, the exhausting obstacles a born outsider encounters in communicating his faith to and for others.
Pialat’s work may be considered a slice of life, without a real beginning or ending; but it is a compelling testimony of the conflictual predicament of class struggle in the 1980’s
Van Gogh (1991)
The final 67 days of Van Gogh’s life is examined. In late spring, 1890, Vincent moves to Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, under the care of Dr. Gachet, living in a humble inn. Fewer than 70 days later, Vincent dies from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. We see Vincent at work, painting landscapes and portraits. His brother Theo, wife Johanna, and their baby visit Auvers. Vincent is playful and charming, engaging the attentions of Gachet’s daughter Marguerite (who’s half Vincent’s age), a young maid at the inn, Cathy a Parisian prostitute, and Johanna. Shortly before his death, Vincent visits Paris, quarrels with Theo, disparages his own art and accomplishments, dances at a brothel, and is warm then cold toward Marguerite. Haggard, exhausted and on the verge of wasting away, the Vincent Van Gogh of Maurice Pialat’s biopic is more of a ragged tramp than a great master. Picking up Van Gogh’s life story in the months before he committed suicide in 1890, Pialat avoids all the usual ear-slicing mythmaking in favor of a portrait of the artist as a melancholic old man. Unlike other, more famous, Van Gogh movies, Pialat spends remarkably little time watching the artist at work. Instead, he charts his antagonistic relationships with those around him, including his art dealer brother Theo (Bernard Lecoq), kindly patron Dr Gachet (Gérard Séty) and Gachet’s daughter, Marguerite (Alexandra London), who falls for the painter’s unbalanced charms. On the few occasions that Pialat contrives to let us watch the artist at his easel, Jacques Dutronc’s phenomenal intensity comes to the fore. He wrestles with each stroke of the brush, beating the paint into submission with bestial ferocity, before dismissively abandoning each canvas as “smudges that will never be worth a cent”. The actor discovers a tragic irony underlying Van Gogh’s sense of overwhelming failure as, surrounded by cowards and weaklings too afraid or stupid to admit to his greatness, he hounds himself towards the inevitable end, destroying everything in his wake and little realizing the importance of his work.
What makes “Van Gogh” so remarkable, though, is Pialat and Dutronc’s refusal to fit this suicidal descent into the usual rhythms of the biopic. Conjuring a performance that’s constantly full of surprises, Dutronc flirts with his character’s despair, swinging from depression to elation with bewildering speed. It’s a performance that makes “Van Gogh” worthy of being called a masterpiece in its own right.
Le Garcu (1995)
Unavailable, that is, to me anyway. There’s a French release that I’m aware of without English subtitles. Antoine is 4. His father Gerard leaves his mother Sophie. Gerard has a lot of mistresses, but never knows how to leave them. Sophie takes a new lover, Jeannot. Starring Gerard Depardieu, Geraldine Pailhas.