Retrospective Jean Eustache, straight in the eyes of the filmmaker

One year after the return to the big screen of The Mom and the Whore (1973), which had caused some traffic jams in repertoire rooms (35,000 spectators, a considerable figure for a re-release of three and forty hours), Les Films du losange put the cover back on this time by making available the complete work of its author, Jean Eustache, who committed suicide in Paris in 1981 at the age of 42. The filmmaker will have left, in all and for all, only twelve films, among which only three feature films, presented here in their brand new copies.

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Projected in dribs and drabs for decades, affected by a certain coefficient of rarity, these had nevertheless become a cornerstone of French cinema, in what it was able to produce most frankly from the collar. Which is enough to make this retrospective the cinematic event of the season, the opportunity to finally look Eustache straight in the eye, he who demanded no less of his spectator.

Sparse forest, long hidden behind the imposing baobab of The Mom and the Whore, the remaining work still strikes as much by its cutting line and its frontality. Realism the filmmaker combines the most salient modalities: autobiographical verve backed by a taste for personal anecdote; the recourse to the recording powers of the camera, in the claimed lineage of the Lumière brothers (which is not without Machiavellian strategies of capture); finally the non-intervention approach of the staging, the maximum effacement of the filmmaker in front of what he is filming.

Dedicated to his grandmother

Several titles are to be rediscovered urgently. Starting with the splendid second feature film by the filmmaker, My little lovers (1974), evocation of his southern childhood, sanctioned on his release by a bitter failure. Daniel, almost 13 years old, brought up by his grandmother in the countryside, stands on this decisive border of the age when interest and attraction for the opposite sex begin to appear. The approach, stammering, is confined for a long time to the gaze: the observation of the most skilful, the lust of inaccessible girls. Then comes the time to move to the mother, in town, in Narbonne.

Under the gesture of love then opens a more brutal initiation: the discovery of French society, its class structure, the bitterly acquired awareness of belonging to the proletariat. Placed as an apprentice with a mechanic, Daniel thus hears himself belittled by a visitor (played by Maurice Pialat): “You will be like us, always a poor guy! » Eustache responds to the conventional idealization of childhood with an abrasive lucidity: a sheet of elliptical, sharp scenes, unrolling under the steps of the young hero like a path of brambles. From a ruthless sharpness is born the naked beauty of this masterpiece, dedicated to the filmmaker’s grandmother.

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