24 December 2020

Jean Eustache's Numéro Zéro (2003)


Jean Eustache's Numéro Zéro was made in 1971 and (unlike most people) he considered this his first feature film, although it wasn't until TF1 broadcast Odette Robert, a much shortened version of it in its series of films about grandmothers, or rather until Pedro Costa, via Jean-Marie Straub and Bruno Eustache, restored the film and brought it to the screen in 2003, that it could be seen in its glory.

Numéro Zéro is a film taken by two cameras, in 'real time', of Odette Robert (Jean Eustache's maternal grandmother), telling her life story. The film begins with Bruno Eustache (Jean's son by Jeanne Delos) walking down the street with his great-grandmother Odette to buy a baguette. They return to the flat where Jean sits with his back to the audience, Odette settles down to a table opposite her grandson, a bottle of Ballantine's is produced and poured into two glasses with a dish of ice cubes at the side, and Odette talks and talks for two hours, not even being allowed for the scene to be interrupted for her to have a glass of water.

It might not on the surface sound like rivetting viewing for the audience – watching a seventy-year-old woman with dark glasses smoking, drinking and talking animatedly about her life with no interruption, just the occasional remark by the shadowy director. But it is rivetting: we hear a long story of abuse, of Odette being mentally rejected and directly and indirectly attacked by her step-mother jealous of her youth, of her husband's constant philandering, reducing her at one stage to cut his mistress's beautiful hair off and serve it on a plate to him as a dessert. There are many things of fascination here and at the end she says she feels drunk – although the audience can't help feeling that it's hardly a result of the whisky she's been consuming in moderation but drunk on two hours' outpouring of her life. Odette's 'performance' is superb cinema.

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