Ma Mère (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Ma Mère is adapted from a 1962 book by a French "moral theorist" named Georges Bataille. I guess a moral theorist is something like a novelist, except without those pesky obligations to characterization and narrative structure. It's a profession with a long and distinguished history in France, dating back at least as far as the grandfather of all so-called moral theorists, the notorious Marquis de Sade. In fact, France is the only country where it is not necessary to write in "moral theorist" as your profession on a blank line of your tax return. They have a pre-coded checkbox for it. And they only have six checkboxes altogether: teacher, legionnaire, shopkeeper, chef, moral theorist, and "other." I guess I should have been French, because I really wanted to major in moral theory at school, but they only teach it at the Sorbonne, and I couldn't get in. My grades were good enough, but I was eliminated because I don't have a dueling scar. I then decided to change my major and go to Heidelberg instead, because the Germans will waive the dueling scar requirement if you're willing to wear a monocle.

It's now patently obvious that I would have made a terrible moral theorist anyway. For example, when evaluating the moral implications of adapting an aloof, perverse 1962 novel to modern times, my first question would have been "why?" Wrong response. Christophe Honoré, the writer/director of this film by-passed the trivial "why?" question and proceeded directly to "how?" And, by God, he nailed it. For example, the 17-year-old in the story spends most of his time weeping, gnashing his teeth, and praying to the Virgin Mary. He says things like ... oh, why bother with things "like" what he says? Here's exactly what he says:



Wow! Did Honoré nail the spirit and lingo of today's youth, or what? You'd never know that was written in an earlier age. He must have had a sound camera planted right in the locker room at the local high school!

Philip French of The Observer described the film as follows:

Ma Mère, based on a novel by the late, pretentious writer Georges Bataille, is a laughable movie set in the Canaries about a French widow (Isabelle Huppert) degrading herself and involving her 17-year-old son in polymorphous sexual activities to help him get over his terrible father's death and his devotion to her.

The original moral theorist, the good Marquis himself, would be quite pleased with this film, which includes various forms of sadism, degradation, and depravity. As you might guess from the title, the young man and his mother have an Oedipal relationship, but it is not enough for the son to give mom the ol' in-out. That would be insufficiently theoretical, morally speaking. Instead the mother and son tease one another until the great moment finally arrives, at which time he cuts her stomach with a surgical knife, then starts feeling her wound with one hand while masturbating with the other. Mom says, "the only sin in what we are about to do is wanting to survive it," and then cuts her own throat with the scalpel. As she gurgles her final sounds, sonny boy continues to masturbate furiously.

When the lad attends mom's wake, the musical score plays the famous Turtles song "Happy Together!"

Now THAT is moral theory at work!

And fun for the whole family.



  • widescreen anamorphic (16x9)
  • one deleted scene and an alternate ending
  • in French with optional English subtitles
  • interviews with the director and one of the stars


  • Emma de Caunes - all
  • Joanna Preis - all
  • Isabelle Huppert - side of hips and see-through slip
  • Louis Garrel - all
  • Various others on the beach and at an orgy

The Critics Vote ...

  • British consensus out of four stars: one and a half stars. Guardian 1/5, BBC 3/5.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed $70,000 in the USA, $50,000 in Italy.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a D. It is so completely out of touch with human behavior that it's not possible to tell whether it is serious. It seems like the sort of thing the Police Squad guys would have created if they had been spoofing French movies instead of cop flicks.

Return to the Movie House home page