A few weeks ago, Les films du Losange, the production company and distributor founded by Éric Rohmer and Barbet Schroeder in 1962, announced that it had acquired the entire filmography of Jean Eustache, whose The Mother and the Whore (1973) is widely regarded as an underseen masterwork. This week, mk2 Films announced its acquisition of the bulk of work by Jacques Rozier. In 2011, Ed Howard called Rozier’s Adieu Philippine (1962) “a forgotten classic of the French New Wave.” The revival of these two oeuvres will fill in some fairly significant gaps in the commonly accepted history of French cinema since that movement rerouted its course.
Late in 1962, Cahiers du cinéma put a still from Adieu Philippine on the cover of an issue heralding the arrival of the “nouvelle vague”—the quotation marks were the editors’. Rozier’s first feature centers on a technician who takes two young Parisian women with him on a holiday in Corsica before he’s drafted to serve in the Algerian War. When the film screened at Critics’ Week in Cannes, it was “preceded by an overly flattering introduction by Jean-Luc Godard who declared it ‘quite simply the best French film of recent years,’ comparing Rozier to ‘the great poets, like Flaherty, Rouch, or Dovzhenko’ in terms of his lyrical, subjective reframing of natural spaces and of landscapes,” noted Tope Ogundare in Senses of Cinema in 2018. “High praise indeed—perhaps too high, to the point of becoming a jinx.”
Though he found work as a documentarian—you can watch Paparazzi (1964), his eighteen-minute portrait of Brigitte Bardot and the photographers that hounded her during the making of Godard’s Contempt (1963), on the Criterion Channel—Rozier wouldn’t make another feature until 1971’s Du côté d’Orouët, a film that hangs for three hours with three girls vacationing on the beach. With his first two features, Rozier “embraces vérité influences and a focus on young lives, culture, and sensibility to create veritable fictive documentaries on French urban youth,” wrote Daniel Kasman in the Notebook in 2008.
Rozier, now ninety-five, carried on working sporadically into the 2000s, and then last summer, he faced eviction from his home in Neuilly-sur-Seine. His wife was ill, and the couple had nowhere to go, but fortunately, filmmaker and writer Paul Vecchiali came to his aid. It’s heartening to know that he’s alive to see the rescue and renewed appreciation of his work.
In his outstanding 2016 article on what is sometimes called the Second New Wave or the post-New Wave for New York’s Metrograph, Nick Pinkerton noted that Eustache, talking to Cahiers in 1978, “stated that the ‘two or three’ films that had given him reason to love the cinema since 1968 were from [Maurice] Pialat and Rozier, citing in particular Pialat’s The Mouth Agape (1974) and Rozier’s The Castaways of Turtle Island (1976).” Pinkerton opened his piece with Eustache first showing up “without great fanfare” in the Cahiers offices in 1962. Luc Moullet, noted Pinkerton, later recalled Eustache, a skilled editor who had worked for French television, “as being haunted by a film that he hoped to get underway, The Mother and the Whore, with the screenplay in part based on surreptitiously taped conversations and arguments with girlfriends.”
Jean-Pierre Léaud plays Alexandre, essentially a stand-in for Eustache, who lives with Marie (Bernadette Lafont) and falls for Veronika (Françoise Lebrun). “They manage to form a triangle with about five sides,” wrote Roger Ebert in 1974. When the film screened again in Chicago in 1999, Jonathan Rosenbaum engaged with his turbulently mixed response to it in the Reader. “If the abject failure of the experiments undertaken by all three characters constitutes much of what seems defeatist and masochistic about both the film and the zeitgeist it announced—the era of hopelessness about social change and human possibility we’re still living through—Eustache is intelligent and poetic enough to show us these people in the round,” he wrote. “In the final analysis, The Mother and the Whore is in love with the idea of defeat; that is its reactionary strength, and most of what I cherish as well as mistrust about the film derives from this fact.”
Eustache’s son, Boris, had been keeping his father’s films out of distribution for decades before Les Films du Losange was finally able to strike a deal. Charles Gillibert, who took over as the company’s president last summer, tells Screen’s Melanie Goodfellow that the immediate aim is to undertake 4K restorations, beginning with The Mother and the Whore. A complete retrospective should follow. As Dave Kehr, a film curator at the Museum of Modern Art, tweets, “This is a pretty big deal.”
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