Nationality: French. Born: Pessac, 30 November, 1938. Education: School in Narbonne. Family: Married, two sons. Career: Employee SNCF; TV researcher 1963; worked in various capacities for other directors, including Vecchiali, Rivette, Marc 'O, Fieschi, from 1962; directed several TV documentaries (1968–80); directed first feature, 1973. Awards: Grand Jury Prize Cannes Festival and Interfilm Award, Berlin Festival for La Maman et la putain, 1973; César for Best Short Fiction film, Les Photos d'Alix, 1980. Died: Committed suicide Paris, 5 November 1981.
Films as Director:
Du côté de Robinson (short) (+ sc, dialogue, ro as man in car)
Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus (Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes) (Father Christmas Has Blue Eyes) (short) (+ sc, dialogue, ro as ex-boxer); Les Mauvaises fréquentations (Bad Company) (Title of double bill consisting of Du côté de Robinson and Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus)
Aussi loin que mon enfance (short) (+ co-sc, co-d Marilù Parolini)
La Rosière de Pessac (The Virgin of Pessac) (+ sc, ed, pr, ro as interviewer) (TV)
Le Cochon (The Pig) (+ co-sc, co-ph, ed, co-d Jean-Michel Barjol) (for TV)
Numéro zero (not released)
La Maman et la putain (The Mother and the Whore) ( + sc, dialogue, ed, ro as Gilberte's husband)
Mes petites amoureuses (My Little Loves) (+ sc, dialogue)
Une Sale histoire (A Dirty Story) (+ sc, dialogue)
La Rosière de Pessac (+ sc) (for TV)
Odette Robert (+ ed) (for TV) (shortened version of Numéro zero); Avec passion Bosch, ou Le Jardin des délices de Jérôme Bosch (+ ed) (for TV); Offre d'emploi (Job Offer) (+ sc) (for TV); Les Photos d'Alix (+ sc, ed) (for TV)
Les Roses de vie (short) (Vecchiali) ( asst, ro)
Dedans Paris (short) (Théaudière) (ed)
Les Taches (short) (Baudry-Delahaye) (ed)
Jean Renoir, le patron (Rivette) (ed) (for TV)
Les Idoles (Marc 'O) (ed); L'Accompagnement (Fieschi) (short) (ed)
Une Aventure de Billy le Kid (Moullet) (ed)
Céline et Julie vont en bâteau (Rivette) (ro as reader in library)
Der Amerikanische Freund (Wenders) (ro as man in the bar)
La Tortue sur le dos (Béraud) (ro as chief of police)
By EUSTACHE: articles—-
Interview, with Jean Collet, in Télérama (Paris), 15 January, 1967.
Interviews, in Image et Son (Paris), no. 244, November 1970; no. 250, May 1971; no. 273, June-July 1973.
Interviews, in Ecran (Paris), no. 17, July, 1973; no 64, December 1977.
Interview with Stéphane Lévy-Klein, in Positif (Paris), no. 157, March, 1974.
"La Maman et la putain," in L' Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), no. 142.
Interviews in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 142, December, 1973; no. 284, June 1978; no. 320, February, 1981.
Interviews in Cinématographe (Paris), no. 13, May-June 1975; no. 34, January 1978.
Interview in Le Film Français (Paris), no. 1689, 11 November, 1977.
On EUSTACHE: books—-
Amengual, B, "Jean Eustache," in Etudes Cinématographiques, Paris, 1986.
Estève, Michel, Jean Eustache, Paris, 1986.
Philippon, Alain, Jean Eustache, Paris, 1986.
Tierchant, Hélène, "Jean Eustache," in Aquitaine: 100 ans deCinéma, Bordeaux,1991.
Forbes, Jill, "Jean Eustache," in The Cinema in France, London, 1992.
On EUSTACHE: articles—-
Image et Son (Paris), no. 244, November 1970.
Le Monde (Paris) 11 February 1971, 10 November 1977; 7 November 1981; 29 April, 1982.
Les Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 187, February 1967; no. 247, July 1973; no. 284, January 1978; no. 285, February 1978; no. 306, December 1979; no. 318, December 1980; no. 336, May 1982 .
Serceau, M., J. Le Troquer, "La Maman et la putain," in Téléciné, no. 181, September 1973.
Callenbach, E., "La Maman et la putain," in Film Quarterly, vol. xxvii, no. 4, Summer 1974.
Cinema 72 (Paris); no. 195, February 1975; no. 196, March 1975; no.228, December 1977.
Apec (Brussels), vol. 12, no. 4, 1974.
Camber, Melinda, "Jean Eustache," in The Times (London), 5 July 1975.
Filmography in Film Dope, (Nottinghmam, UK) no. 14, March 1978.
Magny, Joel, "Jean Eustache," in Cinéma (Paris), no. 276, December, 1981.
Film Comment, vol. 18, no. 1, January 1982; vol. 35, no.2, March-April 1999.
La Revue du Cinéma, June 1984.
Plazewski, Jerzy, "Sambojstwo turpizmu," in Kino (Warsaw), vol. xviii, no. 1, January 1984.
Reader, Keith, "The Mother, the Whore, and the Dandy," in Sightand Sound (London), October 1997.
Rouchy, Marie-Elisabeth, "La Passion selon Jean," in Télérama (Paris), no. 2516, 1 April 1998.
* * *
Although untutored in film, Jean Eustache refined his understanding during the 1950s at the Cinémathèque and developed his critical values through Rohmer and Godard at Cahiers du Cinéma, After his stultifying adolescence in Narbonne, the diffident village boy from Pessac rejoiced in the intellectual vibrancy of hedonistic Paris. The sixties brought experience initially as Vecchiali's assistant for Les Roses de vie (1962) and in small film roles, but principally as an editor. In 1963 he resigned as a TV researcher to make Du côté de Robinson. This début 16–mm autobiographical film contains thematic and stylistic elements characteristic of later work. Two disaffected Parisian youths, failing to pick up partners, rob a married woman who rejects their advances. In quasi-documentary style, Eustache captured contemporary adolescent attitudes so skillfully that an enthusiastic Godard provided unused film stock from Masculin-Féminin for a second semi-autobiographical film, Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus (1966). Daniel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), employed as Santa Claus, discovers a confidence with women that deserts him out of costume. Successfully exploiting Léaud's talent for playing diffident males, Eustache constructs an unforced account of the impoverished, class-conscious Daniel's failures in a dull provincial town. The simple, direct camerawork bringing immediacy to everyday experiences places Eustache within the seemingly artless traditions of Lumière and Renoir. These first films were marketed collectively as Les Mauvaises Fréquentations (1967).
Eustache developed his ethnographic, cinéma-vérité style (a label he testily rejected) though groundbreaking TV documentaries such as La Rosière de Pessac (1969) and Le Cochon (1970). The first chronicles Pessac's festival honoring the village's most virtuous girl, and seeking an unmediated, unobtrusive record of events, 'the recording of reality without any subjective intervention or interference', Eustache employed three independent camera crews, insisting on minimal camera movement with long takes simply edited in chronological order. A decade later, exploring evolutions in moral and social values, he made a second version (La Rosière de Pessac, 1979). Collaboration with Jean-Michel Barjol in 1970 extended the detached, anti-auteurist style with Le Cochon, a matter-of-fact record of slaughtering a pig to make sausages. To avoid a single, dominant viewpoint, the co-directors filmed independently and, discarding TV's traditional normative voice-over, left explanation in local patois.
Eustache's most personal seventies documentary was Numéro Zéro (1971) in which his blind, eighty-year old grandmother Odette Robert talks directly to camera for two unedited hours about her memories of village life. Initially refusing to falsify this exceptional, intimate journal by editing, in 1980 he finally sanctioned a truncated TV version, Odette Robert. Eustache's unmediated images of provincial life mirror Jean Rouch's non-interventionist records of African ceremonial, Les Maîtres fous, (1955) and Parisian lifestyles, Chronique d'un été (1961).
This defining ethnographic style was central to his critically acclaimed, black-and-white feature, La Maman et la putain (1973). With a meager 700,000–franc budget, Eustache economized by filming in his own apartment and local cafés to produce a remarkable three-and-a-half hour testimony to the moral angst of individuals grappling with the sixties sexual revolution. Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Léaud), unemployed and aspiring intellectual, jettisons his pregnant girlfriend Gilberte (Isabelle Weingarten) for an accommodating, self-sufficient businesswoman, Marie (Bernadette Lafont), before falling for Veronika (Françoise Lebrun), a promiscuous nurse. With its authentic settings, naturalistic dialogue, and discreet camerawork mostly using natural light, the film has a distinctly raw documentary feel. The characters' uncompromisingly frank exchanges about sexual experiences and faltering relationships delivered to camera in medium close-up, may still shock, particularly Veronika's closing, drunken monologue where in crude, visceral terms she pours out her confused feelings about sex and a woman's needs in a relationship. Despite apparent spontaneity, all was pre-scripted with Eustache allowing few deviations.
Success at Cannes allowed a long-cherished autobiographical project: Mes petites amoureuses (1974). In a film that arguably mirrors Truffaut's Les Mistons (as La Maman et la putain might be considered a bleaker Jules et Jim), Eustache achieves a typically sensitive depiction of fumbling adolescent sexual experiences, though narrative development, dependent on voice-over, is uncharacteristically episodic.
Eustache's interest in the blur between real and fictionalized experiences is confirmed with a dramatization of scopophilia in Une Sale histoire (1977). Here, a male simply tells a female audience of his erotic pleasure in secretly observing female pudenda while hidden in a café toilet. Two versions, one filmed as fiction with Michel Lonsdale as narrator, the other filmed as direct cinema with Jean-Noël Picq, the author, telling his story, provide comparisons between the listeners' reactions to a personal, seemingly unrehearsed, account and a staged narration. This experimental double telling distinguishes previous films, from Les Mauvaises Fréquentations, through the twice-made La Rosière de Pessac to the private and broadcast versions of his grandmother's memories.
In the eighties Eustache's career was defined by TV work: a well-received programme reflecting on Bosch's vision (Le Jardin des délices de Jérôme Bosch); a short about finding employment (Offre d'emploi); and an award-winning short about an actress recounting her life to a young man (Eustache's son, Boris) though her photo album (Les Photos d'Alix). Here word and image vie for truth as Alix's reminiscences seem to misrepresent the visual evidence.
With only a slim portfolio of films and TV documentaries, Jean Eustache has nevertheless left his mark as a pioneering exponent of direct cinema which frequently privileges the spoken word within the visual medium, and as the director most accurately reflecting attitudes and anxieties of the sixties post-war generation. By refusing to compromise exacting personal standards to commercialism while severely testing loyalties through his difficult, self-deprecating, yet defensively assertive personality, he effectively condemned himself to mainstream cinema's periphery. His male-centered films may be viewed as inherently sexist, upholding traditionalist patriarchal values and subjecting passive females to the dominant, sexualized male viewpoint. Yet his sixties females, Marie or Veronika, project an assertiveness and professional self-sufficiency frequently lacking in his ill-adapted, immature, and feckless males. Largely autobiographical, Eustache's films capture both the passing of provincial traditions and the confusions of an uncertain generation facing the destabilizing challenges of newfound political and sexual freedoms.
Feeling neglected by critics and public alike, Eustache grew increasingly self-absorbed and depressed. Leaving a TV short, La Rue s'allume, half-completed, on 5th September 1981, he shot himself.
—R. F. Cousins