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Directors in Focus
Of Flesh, of Spirit: The Cinema of Jean Eustache

To those who know his name at all in America, Jean Eustache may be a one-hit wonder. But in France he’s far and away the most important filmmaker of the post–New Wave era. Eustache left an indelible mark on French cinema and exercised a profound influence on such directors as Olivier Assayas, Catherine Breillat, Claire Denis, Philippe Garrel, and Benoit Jacquot. His 1973 The Mother and the Whore is the kind of movie that few filmmakers even allow themselves to conindex, let alone make: brutally honest as self-portraiture, as frank about human relationships (sexual and otherwise) as movies have ever gotten, and the last word on post-’68 bohemian Paris. Eustache died before his time (by his own hand) in 1981. Often likened to John Cassavetes, he stands alone as a unique and visionary practitioner of the art.

For their help and support, we wish to thank Véronique Godard; Olivier Bouin and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, Boston; and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.


May 13 (Sunday) 7 pm

Bad Company (Les mauvaises fréquentations)

Directed by Jean Eustache
France 1963, 16mm, b/w, 42 min.
With Aristide, Daniel Bart, Dominique Jayr
French with English subtitles

Eustache’s first film follows two young “skirt chasers” as they go cruising for fun and trouble one Sunday in the Paris suburb of Robinson. When they pick up a girl who wants to go dancing and she ditches them for another boy, they decide to take revenge. Riding the crest of the French New Wave, Bad Company was admired by Godard, Rohmer, Douchet and others. Eustache’s rigor and detachment here, combined with an exacting naturalism, established the tone of much of his subsequent cinema.

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Screens with Bad Company (see above)

Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes (Le Pére Noël a les yeux bleus)

Directed by Jean Eustache
France 1966, 35mm, b/w, 47 min.
With Jean-Pierre Léaud, Gérard Zimmerman, René Gilson
French with English subtitles

Eustache made his second film with 35mm black-and-white stock left over from Godard’s Masculin Feminin and also used that film’s star, Jean-Pierre Léaud. Set in the provinces of Eustache’s youth, the film focuses on the character Daniel, an unemployed young man who spends most of his time unsuccessfully trying to meet girls and dream up money-making scams. One day, needing a new coat, he takes a job as a street-corner Santa Claus and in this role suddenly finds himself able to cope with the opposite sex. This fresh, introspective study of French youth won the International Critics’ Week Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

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May 13 (Sunday) 9 pm
May 14 (Monday) 9 pm

My Little Loves (Mes petites amoureuses)

Directed by Jean Eustache
France 1975, 35mm, color, 123 min.
With Martin Loeb, Ingrid Caven, Jacqueline Dufranne
French with English subtitles

Following the success of The Mother and the Whore, Jean Eustache was finally able to make the equally personal but vastly different My Little Loves—a portrait of his childhood in the south of France in which every footstep, every gesture, and every visual detail seems drawn directly from the filmmaker’s memory. Young Martin Loeb plays Daniel, Eustache’s thirteen-year-old alter ego, and he figures in every scene of this exquisite chronicle of a “sentimental education.” Beautifully photographed by the great Nestor Almendros, My Little Loves (the title is taken from a Rimbaud poem) reaches its emotional climax during an extended scene in which Daniel gets his first kiss in a movie theater showing Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. 


May 14 (Monday) 7 pm
May 15 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Lost Sorrows of Jean Eustache (La peine perdue de Jean Eustache)

Directed by Angel Diaz
France 1997, video, b/w, 52 min.
With Jean-Pierre Léaud, Boris Eustache, Françoise Lebrun
French with English subtitles

This beautiful film essay explores three themes in Eustache’s work: cinema, absence, and mourning. Both inquiry and requiem, The Lost Sorrows of Jean Eustache offers a complex portrait of a mysterious and mercurial artist.

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screens with The Lost Sorrows of Jean Eustache ( see above) 

The Garden of Delights of Hieronymus Bosch (Le Jardin des Délices de Jérôme Bosch)

Directed by Jean Eustache
France 1979, film on video, color, 34 min.
With Jean-Noël Picq, Sylvie Blum, Jérôme Prieur
French with English subtitles

In this unconventional work,Eustache’s friend and collaborator Jean-Noël Picq, the happy scopophiliac of A Dirty Story, describes Bosch’s famous painting “The Garden of Delights.” Rejecting traditional readings in favor of a “pure play of the eye” over the canvas, Picq’s oblique analysis makes us wonder, ultimately, if his account concurs with or contradicts the imagery we see.

 

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May 15 (Tuesday) 7 pm

A Dirty Story (Une sale histoire)

Directed by Jean Eustache
France 1977, 35mm, color, 50 min.
With Jean-Noël Picq, Michel Lonsdale, Jean Douchet
French with English subtitles

In A Dirty Story Jean Eustache presents the same story of storytelling twice: once in documentary fashion, filmed in 16mm black and white, and a second time in 35mm color with actors. Eustache invited his friend Jean-Noël Picq to sit down with a group of people to recount in detail how once, in the men’s room of a Parisian restaurant, he found a hole in the wall and peered through to a perfect view of the ladies’ room. In order to test his contention that the actor (Lonsdale) would prove more convincing than the real-life storyteller, Eustache placed the fictional version first. While the film never shows anything more shocking than a man talking, French censors gave the film an X rating, proving Eustache’s claim that “sex has nothing to do with morals, not even with aesthetics; sex is a metaphysical affair.”

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screens with Dirty Story (see above)

The Pig (Le Cochon)

Directed by Jean Eustache and Jean-Michel Barjol
France 1970, 16mm, b/w, 50 min.
In French 

The Pig, was shot in one blustery day on a small French farm in the Massif Central. Two separate camera and sound crews carefully recorded the slaughtering, dismemberment, and evisceration of a pig and its subsequent conversion into sausages. Eustache, perhaps more than any other French filmmaker, made it his business to get as much of French culture down on film as he could, and here he records a practice that has all but vanished in the face of industrialization. One of Eustache’s most beautiful films, the work is also notable for its vivid sound track, alive with the thick, unintelligible patois of the farm workers.

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May 16 (Wednesday) 7 pm
May 22 (Tuesday) 7 pm

The Mother and the Whore (La maman et la putain)

Directed by Jean Eustache
France 1973, 35mm, b/w, 219 min.
With Jean-Pierre Léaud, Bernadette Lafont, Françoise Lebrun
French with English subtitles

Regarded by many as the monumental achievement of 1970s’ French cinema, not only by dint of scale (the film runs nearly four hours) but by virtue of its lacerating, confessional portrait of a generation in search of itself, The Mother and the Whore is a film like no other. Consecrated to the word, it consists almost entirely of lengthy monologues and dialogues: a quasi-autobiographical meditation on love, sex, and the malaise of living. The film, not coincidentally, stars two veterans of the French nouvelle vague, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Bernadette Lafont; it is deeply marked by and indebted to that era even as it stands in critical opposition to the cinematic excesses of that period. In his 1982 obituary for Jean Eustache, critic Serge Daney wrote that thanks to The Mother and the Whore, people would remember exactly what it was like in Paris for the generation that came of age in the wake of May 1968.

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