Christine Carrière’s Une Mère is a heavy-handed, depressing film which raises the question of the durability of maternal love when pushed to the limit. This tale of a 16-year-old deliquant youth, set on a path of self-destruction, bears unfavourable comparison to Emmanuelle’s Bercot’s La Tete Haute (Standing Tall) which opened this year’s Cannes Film Festival to general acclaim. While Bercot’s film followed Malony, an unruly adolescent shunted around by the French administration in an effort to turn him into a functioning member of society, Carriere focuses on the relationship between Guillaume (Kacey Mottet Klein) and his mother Marie (Mathilde Seigner). And while Bercot’s film was both harrowing and deeply moving, Carrière struggles to find direction and a sense of purpose. The two main characters live in a suffocating viscious circle of mutual hate and simmering physical violence which bears no relation to the usual boundaries of the attachment between mother and son. And therein lies the problem. Guillaume clearly has behavioural problems which lie beyond the medical profession’s diagnosis of Attention Deficity Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the suggestion that his anti-social behaviour is linked to Marie’s deficiencies as a mother do not ring true. Guillaume needs serious help and watching his mother’s repetitive struggle to deal with her violent, angry son soon wears thin.
Marie lives alone with the teenage Guillaume who spends most of his time drinking and creating havoc with his loutish friends. Worn down by his aggressive behaviour and violent outbursts, her only escape is the unlikely friendship she has with an ex-lover Pierre (Pierfrancesco Favino). As her relationship with Guillaume spirals dangerously out of control, Marie realises it is impossible for the two of them to live under the same roof as she doesn’t love her son enough to ruin her own life trying to be a good mother. When the opportunity arises, she leaps at the chance to see if Guillaume can stand on his own two feet.
There is a point in Une Mère when things start to look up and Marie successfully manipulantes her son into leaving home. At last the downbeat, long-suffering mother, is about to take control of her life and as the same time add a further psychological level to the film. But this hope is soon crushed and the two pick up almost where they left off. Seigner’s constant expression of exhaustion and defeat does nothing to lift the mood. Far from being a sympathetic character, her self-imposed martydom becomes increasingly irritating. Kacey Mottet Klein is scarily convicing as the psychotic Guillaume, and yet his troubled teen-ager lacks depth and any hint of redemption. It’s been eight years since Carrière last sat in the director’s chair for the award winning Darling. Une Mère is a disappointing comback.