Georges Bataille's posthumously published 1966 novel makes the unlikely leap from page to screen with all its naughty bits intact, but stripped of the deep spirituality that makes the book a truly shocking read. Pierre (Louis Garrel) returns to his parents' home in the Canary Islands to find that during the years he spent living with his grandmother, little has changed between his mother, Helene (Isabelle Huppert), and his father (Philippe Duclos). Mom is as saintly, distant and exquisitely beautiful as ever, while Dad is still the debauched, drunken lout whom Pierre suspects beats his lovely wife. When his father is suddenly killed while on business in Nice, however, Helene tells her adoring son the truth: She, not her late husband, was the truly depraved one in their marriage. Far from a saint in any traditional sense, Helene is in fact a promiscuous drunk who sleeps with just about anyone she cares to, male or female, and the more degrading the circumstances the better. Helene insists that her son not only accept the simple fact that his mother is disgusting, but demands that he love her precisely because of it. The devoutly Catholic Pierre is at first devastated by his mother's revelations and withdraws into a deep depression, but then emerges prepared to follow Helene down whatever road to perdition she chooses. Helene first exposes Pierre to her husband's vast collection of pornography, then introduces him to her lubricious female lover, Rea (Joana Preiss), who promises to initiate Pierre in all manner of obscenities. "The pleasure only begins the moment the worm is in the fruit," Helene teaches him, but Rea is just a surrogate for the true object of Pierre's sexual desire: his own mother. Clearly this is not a film for the whole family to enjoy together. Writer-director Christophe Honore manages to transform Bataille's fevered prose into a workable screen drama; he even bests the prince of perversion at his own game by adding a coda that introduces necrophilia into the already tawdry mix. But without Pierre's anguished voice-over, the film never satisfactorily broaches Bataille's real concern — how the most depraved acts can lead one to experience God — and for all its shocking content, it remains a rather conventional psychological portrait of Oedipal attraction taken to a disturbing extreme.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: NR
- Review: Georges Bataille's posthumously published 1966 novel makes the unlikely leap from page to screen with all its naughty bits intact, but stripped of the deep spirituality that makes the book a truly shocking read. Pierre (Louis Garrel) returns to his parents… (more)