I like the idea of having a cinema blog, because I can talk about film-makers not very well known, or unfairly underestimated, or completely forgotten that I adore.
One of them is Jean Eustache.
I have to prevent you, though: if, after reading my post, you want to rent or buy a DVD of one of his movies… well, forget about it. We live in a world where Eustache’s movies DON’T exist on the market (yes, it's a tough world, guys).
I personally managed to see all of them at a great retrospective organized by the Pompidou Centre (God bless the two architects who made it!) in January 2006.
Born in 1938 in Pessac, near Bordeaux, Eustache moved to Paris in 1958, and immediately joined the wild bunch of the Cahiers du Cinema (his wife used to work there as a secretary) in their cinéphile crazy life: 4 movies per day, pastis and cigarettes at the cafés of the Rive Gauche, and never ending discussions about cinema until the early morning.
His first movie, a moyen-métrage called Du Côté de Robinson, is dated 1963 (oh, the joy of recognizing the street where I live in one of those scenes!).
In 1966, Jean-Luc Godard gave to Eustache some film-rolls left from the shooting of his movie Masculin, Feminin (in retrospect, it would have been so much better for Godard to gave him the entire film-rolls… try to have a look at Masculin, Feminin today and you’ll be bored to death after 10 minutes... as it is often the case with Godard movies). On the contrary, Eustache used them to film a little masterpiece: Le Père Noel a les yeux bleus.
The story is set in Narbonne, where a young and poor guy, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, would like to find the money to buy a duffle-coat. It is Christmas time, and Daniel finds a strange job: disguised as Father Christmas, he poses for pictures with people passing in front of the shop he works for. To his surprise, he realizes that disguised like that he could be a different person: less shy than he actually is and able to flirt with girls that normally won't even look at him. Reality, though, strikes back: when he has a date with a girl that he met as "Father Christmas", he is badly rejected by her. In 45 minutes, Eustache creates a perfect little story about what we would like to be and the reality of what we are, about life in a small town, about love and solitude.
Eustache only became famous, though, in 1973, thanks to a 3 hours and 40 minutes feature film called La Maman et la Putain (winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival that year) and considered as the most important French movie of the Seventies.
This is a unique cinema experience that I hope everyone of you will make one day: Jean-Pierre Léaud loves two women at the same time, Bernadette Lafont et Françoise Lebrun. The three of them spend the whole time loving each other, trying to leave each other, having sex, listening to old records, smoking in cafés, discussing endlessly about love, relationships, friendship, death and the ultimate meaning of life. The long monologues by Léaud are absolutely amazing: he is able to hypnotize the public for 30 minutes talking about a single thing. Believe me, this is an unforgettable movie.
Eustache was incredible in understanding and representing the time he was living in: the post '68, with all its contradictions and heavy consequences on the future.
Thanks to the success of La Maman et la Putain, Eustache made a movie he really cared for: Mes Petites Amoureuses, about his childhood and his first loves (girls and cinema). It is a rigorous, tender and melancholic movie, that unfortunately didn't find an audience.
This was also his last feature film. He made few short-movies and then he died.
His influence, I have to say, is still very strong on film-makers everywhere in the world.
Broken Flowers by Jim Jarmusch, for instance, is dedicated to him.
In Pour Rire by Lucas Belvaux (1996), Jean-Pierre Léaud goes into a hospital to visit a friend and he bumps into a nurse, who is… Françoise Lebrun (from La Maman et la Putain). He looks at her for a long moment and then he asks: do we know each other? And she replies with an enigmatic smile: no, sir, I don’t think so.
But what I really love to remember is the scene from Domicile Conjugal by François Truffaut (the fourth chapter of Antoine Doinel’s epic), in which Jean-Pierre Léaud just had a baby and stops at a public telephone to call the Eustache family to announce them the great news.
Cinema and real life mixed together in a perfect way.
Eustache, frustrated by many fruitless attempts to find a market for his movies and (I guess) distraught by important personal problems, killed himself in November 1981.
He actually shot himself in his bedroom.
He didn’t leave any letter of explanation for his gesture. He just left a note on the door of his room:
If I don’t answer, it is because I’m dead.
If I don’t answer, it is because I’m dead.
Sadly enough, that was the case.