13 May 2004 (2004-05-13)
Georges Bataille (novel), Christophe Honore
The Beautiful Person, Savage Grace, Making Plans for Lena
Ma Mère (English: My Mother) is a French-Austrian-Portuguese-Spanish 2004 film about the incestuous relationship between a 17-year-old boy and his attractive, promiscuous, 43-year-old mother. The film stars Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel and Emma de Caunes. French director Christophe Honoré, who wrote the screenplay, based it on the controversial and posthumous 1966 novel of the same name by French author Georges Bataille. Honoré shot the film on location on the island of Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain. Its dialogue is almost entirely in French with brief segments in Spanish, German and English. Film distribution company TLA Releasing released Ma Mère in France, at the Cannes Film Market, on 13 May 2004.
The story revolves around pious, young Pierre (Louis Garrel) who has just left a Catholic boarding school to live with his wealthy parents at their villa on the island of Gran Canaria. Pierre's father (Philipe Duclos) dies early in the movie, leaving his mother, Hélène (Isabelle Huppert) to care for him. Pierre soon learns, however, of the depraved nature of his parents.
While in a restaurant, his mother reveals to him that she has been unfaithful to her husband many times with his knowledge and feels no shame about it. She then insists that her son accepts her promiscuous ways.
Soon after this, Pierre finds a closet full of his father's pornography. His reaction is to furiously masturbate and then to urinate on the magazine pages. However, there are several far more shocking surprises in store for Pierre.
Hélène encourages her uninhibited sex buddy, Réa (Joana Preiss), to take her son's virginity. She does so but in public and on a concrete floor at Gran Canaria's Yumbo Centrum, a popular shopping and nightlife complex. Hélène looks on longingly as the partially clothed couple copulates with passersby raising no objections.
Afterwards, Hélène includes her son in an orgy with her friends, including Hansi (Emma de Caunes), a sweet-faced young woman who later becomes Pierre's girlfriend. After the orgy, Hélène decides that she must leave her son to travel. While saying goodbye to Pierre, she implies that something taboo has happened between them and that she must leave to prevent it from happening again.
Upon Hélène's departure, Hansi enters Pierre's life as a friend. She admits befriending Pierre at Hélène's encouragement but denies receiving a fee from her. Their friendship blossoms into a tender romance and they both fall in love. During their relationship, Hansi reveals that she has participated in sado-masochistic sex many times as a dominatrix with her friend Loulou (Jean-Baptiste Montagut) as the willing masochist. She adds Hélène arranged these encounters as sexual exhibitions for tourists.
After an extended absence from the movie, Hélène returns home with Réa in tow because Hélène has finally tired of her sexual adventures. Upon arriving, she finds her son and Hansi socializing at a bar near the villa. Hélène and Pierre greet each other by chatting and gazing into each other's eyes like lovers while Hansi looks on jealously. Finally, Hélène invites her son to sleep with her. He agrees.
Hélène and Pierre go into the wine cellar of the house. They begin to act out their desires physically. Hélène asks her son to cut her abdomen with a razor while he masturbates and as he climaxes she slits her own throat.
The next scene is the paramedics carting away Hélène's body. The son is allowed to say his good-bye before the cremation. He enters the room where she lies in state and masturbates exclaiming that he does not want to die as he is carried out.
Ma Mère was rated NC-17 when it was released in the United States. The reason was "strong and aberrant sexual content" . For the trailer the film was presented as an NC-17 film while mistakenly defining the rating as "under 17 requires supervision by parent or guardian" (which is the definition of the R rating). An edited R-rated version running ten minutes shorter was released on DVD. The reason for the R rated version was "Strong Aberrant Sexuality, Some Language and Violent Images". Despite YouTube's policy of not carrying NC-17 rated films, YouTube simply falsely labeled the NC-17 version as unrated in order to carry it.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes indicates Ma mère has received mixed but largely negative reviews over time, with an average rating of 3.7/10. Of the 42 reviews posted on Rotten Tomatoes, five are positive. The site's consensus reads "Pretentious, overly perverse and dull." One critic, Jonathan Romney, associated the film with the New French Extremity.