A somber and young man Pierre (Louis Garrel) sits inside a car listening impassively as his barely coherent, self-absorbed father (Philippe Duclos) coldly reveals his resigned resentment towards him as an accident of birth who had caused a premature end to his bohemian lifestyle and sexual experimentation with his wife Hélène (Isabelle Huppert). Brought to a secluded summer villa for a tenuous (and decidedly dysfunctional) family reunion with his seemingly delicate and emotionally opaque mother, Pierre is eager to express his complete devotion towards her in an attempt to prove allegiance to her against the emotional betrayal of his father’s flaunted infidelities. However, when the father returns to France on “business” (a implicit euphemism for his visits to his mistress), Hélène’s awkward intimacy with the tormented and inexperienced Pierre reveals an even more insidious side to her seeming impenetrability. Based on philosopher and author George Bataille’s novel, Ma Mère is an insidious, amoral, depraved, and even darkly comical exposition on filial attraction, sexual initiation, and liberation. Although filmmaker Christophe Honoré presents some indelible and evocative images, most notably in the repeated crane shots of sand dunes that visually reflect Pierre’s underlying sense of desolation, the pervasive bankruptcy and perverted search for intimacy and transcendence in the story is so alienated and bereft of hope that the film’s recurring themes of religion, sexuality, fanaticism, and obsession becomes inextricably moribund and, like the characters’ troubled lives, proves to be a transitory exercise in vacuous, empty ritual.
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