‘The death of Jean Eustache shocked but it didn’t surprise. His friends said he was suicidal. He held on to life only by a small number of threads, so solid that one thought them unbreakable. The desire for cinema was one of these threads. The desire not to have to film at any cost was another. This desire was a luxury and Eustache knew it. He would pay the price.
‘It’s not much to say that he was born to cinema with the Nouvelle Vague, a little bit after it, but with the same refusals and admirations. It’s not much to say that he was an “auteur,” his cinema was mercilessly personal. That is to say, mercilessly tied up with his experience, to alcohol, to love. Filling up his life in order to make the material of his films was his only moral code but it was a moral code of iron. The films came when he was strong enough to make them come, to bring back what he made in life.
‘In the thread of the desolate 70s, his films succeeded one another, always unforeseen, without a system, without a gap: film-rivers, short films, TV programs, hyperreal fiction. Each film went to the end of its material, from real to fictional sorrow. It was impossible for him to go against it, to calculate, to take cultural success into account, impossible for this theoretician of seduction to seduce an audience.
‘The audience was with him once, when he made the most beautiful French film of the decade, THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE. Without him, we would have no face to set to the memory of the lost children of May Ô68: lost, already aging, talkative and old-fashioned. (Bernardette) Lafont, (Jean-Pierre) Léaud and especially Françoise Lebrun, her black shawl and her stubborn voice. Without him, nothing would have remained of them.
‘An ethnologist of his own reality, Eustache could have made a career, become a good auteur, with fantasies and a vision of the world, a specialist of some sort in himself. His moral code prohibited it: he only filmed what interested him. Women, dandyism, Paris, the country and the French language. It’s already a lot.
‘Like a painter knowing that he’d never quite finish, he never cased returning to the same motif, using cinema not like a mirror (that’s for the good directors) but like the needle of a seismograph (that’s for the greats). The public, one moment seduced, would forget this perverse ethnography that had the bad manners to keep coming. An artist and nothing but an artist (he didn’t know how to do anything except make films), he held to the contrary the speech of an artisan, simultaneously more modest and proud. The artisan weighs everything, evaluates everything, takes on everything, memorizes everything. Thus Eustache worked.
‘One year, some Moroccan friends had organized a complete retrospective of his work in Tangier. A strange idea. A brilliant idea. All the reels, the heaviness, the age, the rust, the incredible number of kilograms that THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE represents were put into a diplomatic case, crossed the sea and found themselves in front of assiduous Moroccan cine-clubgoers. Would Eustache come? It was difficult to make him leave Paris, we thought. But he came and remained two days. The projection of the Eustachian opus took place, outside of time, for this audience, unprepared for all these stories of sex and desire, of the French countryside and the fauna of Montparnasse, was disconcerted. Eustache would disconcert them even more. His mildness, his patience and his manner of responding to questions with an indecipherable mix of irony and gravity, surprised everyone.
‘Tangier wasn’t Paris nor the port cafes the Closerie de Lilas, but we searched for a late bar to have a beer and talk about cinema. Eustache spoke of his masters, with whom he didn’t compare himself, of Pagnol and Renoir, these other artisans who came before him. I will never forget the way in which he made them live again in his language, shot by shot, with his accent. It shocked but didn’t surprise. Eustache resembled his times too much to be comfortable. He ended by losing. Too bad for us.’ — Serge Daney (trans. Steve Erickson)
Jean Eustache @ IMDb
‘Of Flesh, of Spirit: The Cinema of Jean Eustache’
‘Jean Eustache: He stands alone’
‘The Way We Are’
Jean Eustache @ mubi
‘L’invisible Jean Eustache’
‘Jean Eustache Retrospective Looks At A Bold French Filmmaker’
‘His Little Loves: The life and films of Jean Eustache
Jean Eustache @ strictly film school
‘No Wave: The Cinema of Jean Eustache’
‘Que reste-t-il de Jean Eustache?’
Jean Eustache @ The Criterion Collection
‘Pourquoi les films d’Eustache sont peu visibles’
‘“THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE” REVISITED’
‘The List: Jean Eustache’
Harmony Korine on Jean Eustache’
Jean-Jacques Schuhl ‘Jean Eustache aimait le rien’
2009 rencontre avec Jean Pierre Léaud suite à la projection de ‘La Maman Et La Putain’
Les cafés narbonnais à travers les films de Jean Eustache
Naissance du Cinéma Narbonnais : Jean Eustache
‘Rest in Peace, Jean Eustache’
from La Revue du Cinéma (1971)
You’ve made four films that to me seemed to indicate a personal path in our cinema. Now, you want to do something completely different. Where does this break between the films you directed before and the last one come from?
JEAN EUSTACHE: I decided to break with the films that I was making because they were suffocating me.
Why were they suffocating you? Wasn’t it a kind of cinema that had already broken away from the system, as much in terms of how it was made (production and direction) as by its choice of subject matter?
JE: Yeah, but as I was working more in an artisanal manner, I didn’t really feel like I was challenging the system. Instead, I felt like I was always doing the same thing but, above all, it’s less in relation to the cinema than in relation to myself that the problems were presenting themselves. Each film was making life more difficult. When I’d finished one, I was always thinking I was going to be able to see things differently, to live a little better, and it was the opposite that was happening, I was living worse and worse…
From what point of view? From a financial point of view or from the point of view of what you had wanted to make or express?
JE: Well, I was making films in a very egotistical way, to be able to free myself in some way and to try to live a bit more casually. In fact, I had, instead, a heavier and heavier weight on my shoulders. That’s why I was shooting so few films. I was thinking a lot and, between the films that I was making, a certain number of ideas would come to mind that I’d abandon along the way. I would only finalize one of them about every two years. And, each time, I didn’t manage to find a path that let me live and work at the same time because, for that, making a film that means a month or two of work every two years isn’t sufficient. And then, every time that I attempted something, I wasn’t managing to go further in the chosen direction; I felt like I had to change direction.
You mean you were disappointed with the results? Unsatisfied?
JE: But you’re always a little disappointed, you always hope to do better. You achieve something and, yet, you had hoped it would be better… Most of the films I’ve done have pleased my friends, have been pretty well liked around me, which cut off my need to make something else immediately. If I had only been met with incomprehension, I would maybe have insisted, I would maybe have fought. Since everything was going simply outwardly, since people liked them, each time I thought I’d achieved my goal, but, at the same time, by my own standards, I wasn’t very satisfied, however I told myself: since the main thing is fine, since they say so, it should be enough…
It seemed too easy to you that your films were liked without any problems?
JE: That’s it, I didn’t really try to do better. And, at the same time, as I was going to the movies less and less and I was very disappointed when I did go, I was very happy to be outside what was being done everywhere. In the end, I no longer felt like being a filmmaker, like making films. And the questions that I was asking myself for more than a year came to this: why do we make films? What is it for? I found myself in the most total confusion and I considered giving up movies. I had always enjoyed working on other people’s films more than my own. For what is in other people’s films, when I edited them, I felt like I thought more deeply about them, that I brought more to them. The work I’m most happy with in cinema is that which I’ve accomplished on other people’s films and not on my own ones…
What do you call “fun”?
JE: Fun? Well, there are people who feel the need to take a vacation or who have one of Ingres’ violins, if they work all week… Before, quite a while ago, I was seeing 3 or 4 films a day, I was going back to see the films I liked 7 or 8 times, and I could completely lose myself in these films, only think about them. Now, I can’t anymore, I watch films worse than an ordinary viewer. I have as much trouble seeing a film as reading. I think about other things. Sometimes, when you’re reading, you suddenly notice that you were absent minded and you have to start over. For films, it’s the same thing. I see something and I don’t know what I saw. I have to go back to know, because I have a vague impression of something, but nothing more… But, to go back to your question, if I tried to make films for “fun,” the actual direction wasn’t a part of the enjoyment, it was, instead, a considerable effort and, in fact, a lot more difficult than enjoyable. Above all due to the lack of money. The first two films that I shot, with actors, might have been very enjoyable to do but, for financial reasons, the undertaking was very perilous. Then, for the documentaries, I had less need for money. I shot La Rosière and Le cochon in a day each, but I still had to do an hour long film in a day. That requires effort, spending considerable energy in a short amount of time. I caught up with myself a bit while editing. Okay… But, still, I find that these films, whatever is interesting about them, come from a clear conscience. You’re very happy when you do the opposite of what others do, when you do better, when you think you do better or when people say, “It’s very good.” And, in fact, it’s demobilizing.
But, still, doesn’t anxiety let go of you?
JE: No, it moves a bit. Paradoxically, you notice that you’re not understood at all. I would have been better understood if they had told me that it’s bad or it’s worthless. Because I would have maybe tried to prove more, to go deeper. Instead I was thinking, “I’ve got a hell of a nerve and they’re still being fooled…”
Do you not think that in France, in 1971, you are practically alone against millions of viewers. There are friends who support you, morally more than anything else, but you’re alone in front of this mass because, at the most, everyone or almost everyone doesn’t take cinema seriously…
JE: I agree. But I defined my position as utopian from the start. I don’t know where I’ll go, but I know where I am. Whatever the price of my attitude, as there’s a financial problem – spend money making films and keep them without getting anything back – this position is, for me, the only one possible, and not even from a moral point of view, it’s my only chance of succeeding at something. I don’t have a choice. If I show it, I won’t earn more money and the film will be like dead, ineffective, whether or not it is liked. I want out. One of my films, Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus, was liked, according to what I could read and hear in film clubs and theaters where it was shown. The release of my films in theaters or underground theaters has cost me money. I don’t want to talk about money, but, still, you have to…
Absolutely. When you talk about cinema, you have to talk about money…
JE: You have to talk about that only. Okay. I’ve always been glad people like Le Père Noël. I said to myself, “Here, I didn’t do it for nothing, I tried expressing something and people understood it.” So, Le Père Noël was liked by certain teenagers, which really pleased me. Besides, this film was conceived from my own memories, I felt very alone, an adolescent, and I wasn’t finding myself at the movies or elsewhere: so I made this film out of this frustration and I was very happy when 16 or 17 year olds, who maybe didn’t know exactly why, found something in it. And then, there were also people my age who remembered their adolescence and even the oldest people sometimes, but there was, in the first place, those who it spoke to now. And that was a huge joy for me… But I’m not a “Good Samaritan,” I didn’t make this film to help others, but to live. I was delighted my film was liked this much, but I still need to live.
And to use pretentious language, while admitting that I brought something, no one brought me anything in exchange, in any case, so it’s like I was robbed and suffocated at the same time. I gave something until I was suffocated, until I was destitute, until I had nothing more to say and nothing to do. And nothing in exchange. It’s was like vampirism. I sucked my own blood. My blood was pumped out and that’s all, I was left there. So, I reacted, I don’t want any more, so be it…
9 of Jean Eustache’s 14 films
Le Père Noël a Les Yeux bleus (1966)
‘Made with leftover film given to him by Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Eustache interwove the stock from the former director’s ‘Masculin/Feminin’ with his own 52-minute study of a group of young men in a small French province and their attempts to earn money and meet girls. Jean-Pierre Leaud (who starred in both films) is Daniel, the protagonist/narrator. As in the Doinel films by Truffaut, Leaud acts as a sort of alter ego figure for Eustache. Desperate to buy a stylish winter coat, Daniel accepts a local photographer’s offer to dress up as a sidewalk Santa Claus to pose for photos with passerby. Once his identity is concealed in costume, Daniel discovers, the town’s inhabitants treat him far differently; namely, attention from the girls who’d earlier brushed him off.’ — Karina/IMDb
the entire film
Le cochon (1970)
‘Le Cochon, which Eustache co-directed with Jean-Michel Barjol, records the slaughter and dismemberment of a pig and the process of transforming the dead animal into various food products. It’s Eustache’s most beautiful film because it’s his most curious and graceful. He and Barjol filmed the movie over the course of a single day, shooting footage separately and then editing together; their purpose was primarily to observe, to record. There’s a great affinity between this film and the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman-a similar directness (there are no voice-overs, explanatory titles, or interviews) and a similar luxurious freedom from preconception or interpretation. Wiseman, passionately and with an almost missionary desire, shows us things neglected by almost all other filmmakers-the banal, allegedly undramatic daily experiences of cops, teachers, welfare workers, hospital workers, judges, soldiers, and so on (experiences that of course prove to be almost ridiculouslydramatic and full of interest). The same attitude radiates from every moment of Le Cochon – the delight of making a faithful record of an experience, both the experience of the filmmakers over the course of one day and the daily experience of the farmers. The movie begins with the slaughter of the pig, a wrenching thing to witness-but instead of passing judgement on the farmers, it opens out into something much more generous and understanding, a portrait of a way of life, an appreciation of physical work, of daily toil, of the process of transforming one thing into another.’ — Senses of Cinema
the entire film
Numéro zéro (1971)
‘Almost the entire hour and three-quarters of Jean Eustache’s 1971 film Numéro Zéro is filled with the director’s interview of his grandmother Odette Robert on Feb. 12th of that year. Eustache includes in the film the conditions of its production—the director himself is seated at the table with her, pours her some whiskey, speaks with the camera operator, manipulates the clapboard at the head and tail of the reels, and even takes a phone call from a foreign firm that wants to distribute one of his early short films. Odette Robert had come from her home in the provinces to live with Eustache in Paris and help care for his son Boris (who is seen, at the beginning of the film, helping guide her through the streets of Paris—she had recently had eye operations and had to wear dark lenses, including on-camera). In the light of Numéro Zéro, Eustache seems like something of a cinematic archeologist, who looks into and through the images of his times to extract the living history in a desperate attempt to confront, honor, and exorcise it—and perhaps even to revive it, to the extent that, even in its agonies, he acknowledges the unlikeliness that life would ever be so full again.’ — The New Yorker
The Mother and the Whore (1973)
‘The Mother and the Whore is considered Eustache’s masterpiece, and was called the best film of the 1970s by Cahiers du cinéma. It won the Grand Prix of the Jury and the FIPRESCI prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. The film created a scandal at the Cannes Film Festival, as many critics saw the film as immoral and obscene or, in the words of the broadsheet Le Figaro, “an insult to the nation”, while Télé-7-Jours called it a “monument of boredom and a Himalaya of pretension”. After gaining little public recognition despite receiving praise throughout the years from critics and directors, such as François Truffaut and other members of the French New Wave, Eustache became an overnight success and internationally famous after the film’s Cannes premiere. He soon financed his next film. The critic Dan Yakir said that the film was “a rare instance in French cinema where the battle of the sexes is portrayed not from the male point of view alone”. James Monaco called it, “one of the most significant French films of the 1970s”. Jean-Louise Berthomé said, “I am not sure that La mama et la putain, with its romances of a poor young man of 1972, doesn’t say something new.” Pauline Kael praised the film, saying it reminded her of John Cassavetes in its ability “to put raw truth on the screen – including the boring and the trivial”. The film’s reputation increased over time. In 1982 the literary magazine, Les Nouvelles Littéraires, celebrated the tenth anniversary of the film by publishing a series of articles on it.’ — collaged
Mes Petites Amoureuses (1974)
‘Eustache told Luc Moullet he wanted Mes petites amoureuses “to reconstruct [my] childhood: every wall section, every tree, every light pole.” But the film’s actual relationship with nostalgia is ambivalent. Much of it is a vision of adolescence-as-purgatory, with 12-year-old Daniel uprooted from his familiar, bucolic life with his grandmother to live in Narbonne with his mother (Caven) and her lover (that Eustache would become a trenchant critic of sexual permissiveness should be understandable—it apparently wrecked his childhood). The domestic existence he finds with her is an entombment; the “boyfriend” is a Spanish émigré farm laborer, José (Dionys Mascolo), who seems almost mummified by disappointment. Caven has a wet, waxen pallor and a mortician’s makeup job. The couple sit and tobacco-stain the gaudy wallpaper; the one time they leave the apartment together, they silently sit across the canal from the teeming life on the town’s main promenade and smoke. They’re afraid to be seen out: José’s divorce hasn’t been finalized, it’s explained. The film touches abstract, private feelings with in the most discreet of gestures: a pan over the reassuringly familiar objects on a mantelpiece; a first long train journey seen through dozed-off ellipses. The soft-edged, plein air cinematography—Néstor Almendros channeling Claude Lorrain—is crushingly picturesque.’ — Moving Image Source
the entire film
Une sale histoire (1977)
‘In this short film from Jean Eustache, a group of friends sit down and, with little prelude, listen to their friend (Michel Lonsdale) recite a story about when, as a young man, he discovered a peephole in the ladies toilet at a small cafe. He describes the etiquette surrounding this peephole for the resident perverts in the cafe, and relates how viewing female vaginas soon became his sole obsession, and, finally, how he overcame this obsession. His friends listen, discuss, and the movie ends. At least, the scripted portion does. Then we see the same story, with nearly identical dialogue, related by Jean Noel-Picq, for real. This second monologue is actually a documentary filming: the first monologue was actually filmed second, with professional actors this time. Naturally, hearing the exact same story twice in a row takes much of the edge off. At first, it’s a hilarious, oddly compelling story. The second time, we are subjected to it because, according to the introduction to the screening, Eustache wants to show that there’s no such thing as objective truth.’ — edwartell
the entire film
Le Jardin des délices de Jérôme Bosch (1980)
‘C’est l’évocation qui fonctionne dans Le Jardin des Délices de Jérôme Bosch, confirmant l’importance qu’Eustache accorde à la parole. Mais, comme dans ses grands films, la parole se fait ici visuelle, picturale. Pour venir en appui des mots de Picq, il vient faire de fréquentes coupes sur le tableau lui-même, mais jamais pris dans son ensemble, plutôt abordé comme une sorte de chaos d’éléments étranges qui viennent presque heurter le calme du discours. Très belle idée d’avoir choisi un des tableaux les plus explosifs qui soient pour le charger d’une telle sérénité. Du coup, Bosch sort de ce cliché de punk du Moyen-Age auquel on le cantonne souvent : il devient un sage joyeux et concentré, élégant et finalement simple d’abord. Ce petit film qui ne paye pas de mine rend au final un hommage vibrant et subtilement intelligent à la peinture dans toute sa force d’évocation.’ — shangols
Offre d’emploi (1980)
‘Voilà le dernier film de Jean Eustache, celui qu’il a réalisé juste avant de se faire sauter le carafon, et c’est vrai que quand on le regarde on a quelques tendances suicidaires qui jaillissent. Dans la lignée d’Une sale Histoire, ce court-métrage pratique un humour tellement pince-sans-rire qu’il en devient privé d’humour, ce qui est remarquable. C’est juste de la colère, ou plutôt du désespoir, mais qui a encore le dernier sursaut de la critique politique. On suit le cheminement d’un homme qui postule pour un emploi, et Eustache dissèque soigneusement chaque étape de la chose : on souligne la petite annonce dans le journal, on a un premier entretien, on écrit la lettre de motivation, qui se retrouve entre les mains d’une graphologue, etc. Offre d’Emploi est assez mystérieux, sûrement trop court pour qu’Eustache parvienne à aller au bout de la critique acerbe qu’on sent poindre. Visiblement le projet est de démonter la déshumanisation complète des rapports entre offre et demande dans le monde de l’entreprise. A force de scruter avec des méthodes artificielles la psychologie des demandeurs, le processus devient monstrueux, privé d’affect. Le dernier plan, montrant un premier de la classe vanter les mérites de l’analyse sémantique des entretiens d’embauche, fait froid dans le dos. Le monde décrit ici est glacial, totalement désabusé, et Eustache met bien le doigt sur la monstruosité des rapports professionnels si aboutie aujourd’hui. La mise en scène est sèche mais inspirée (alternance de gros plans qui enferment les personnages chacun dans leur univers, un magnifique travelling lattéral lors du premier rendez-vous qui dévoile subtilement le malheur de ces chômeurs en attente), le ricanement est omniprésent, mais on aurait aimé que pour son adieu au monde, Eustache ait la possibilité d’aller plus loin, de montrer cet engrenage de dément jusqu’à son aboutissement.’ — shangols
Les Photos d’Alix (1980)
‘Alix leafs through her photo album with a friend. She shows him the pictures and tells how and when they were taken. Gradually her comment becomes less realistic and her descriptions take on a more poetic and imaginative character. Eventually her comment bears no relationship anymore to the photographs. Les photos d’alix is a cinematic essay, with a light-hearted starting point, enabling director Jean Eustache to examine the way we represent reality. Photos and film may be able to capture reality, but reality does not have real meaning until the artist gives his interpretation of it. For Eustache the relationship between reality and its representation is the starting point for his total oeuvre. Therefore, the traditional dividing line between documentary truth and fiction is not really interesting to him. But as he was backed up by a positive response to his works he was never forced to make any concessions in order to make his feature films less ‘real’ or his documentaries less playful. Les photos d’alix was his last film. Eustache committed suicide in 1981.’ — IDFA
p.s. I’m in London and indisposed today. Explore what Jean Eustache made, won’t you? See you tomorrow.