7 November 2021

Luc Moullet's Un steack trop cuit (1960)

(In September of this year, 2021, the Cinémathèque française showed a number of films by the almost forgotten Luc Moullet, who at the age of eighty-five is still very much alive. When the daily paper Libération interviewed him, living on the fifth floor of a block of flats, he said he's horrified of lifts, and measures the state of a visitor's health by counting the minutes between their initial intercom ring and the time they arrive at his door. In another article in the same paper, Moullet says "I'm not a very normal person. I always live a little at the side of reality". (My translation, and I shall continue to include this paragraph in any further posts on Mouillet as they are not only an introduction to his work, but also (surely) strong indications of an Asperger element.))

Un steack trop cuit is Mouillet's first film, being a short like the majority of his movies. He had already been writing for the prestigious Cahiers du cinéma since the age of nineteen and from the beginning he was stongly Nouvelle Vague influenced. Impressed by a large article he wrote about Godard's A bout de souffle (1960), Godard introduced him to the producer Georges de Beauregard, who produced this Moullet's first film. It is quirky, well off-centre and was filmed in his flat on a very low budget.

It stars Moullet's younger brother Patrice as JoJo and his older sister is played by Françoise Vatel. They are both still studying and their parents have gone away for a short time. The sister makes the meals but overcooks the dinner steak and Jojo has to borrow something else to eat from a neighbour. His sister later leaves Jojo to go out with a boyfriend, much to Jojo's disappointment and jealousy.

Moullet sees film-making as a form of smuggling, like you initially give a story to the audience but leave them to work out what the film is really about, see through the apparent salt to find the cocaine. And, looking at events from an oblique angle, it's not difficult to find an absurd, anarchic vision: Moullet is all about absurdity and anarchy. When Jojo goes the the toilet after eating the bad steak and asks for paper, his sister rips pages from an edition of Cahiers du cinéma; Jojo is an uncouth eater who uses his fingers and spits out his food, hurling abuse at his sister; instead of washing the pots after she's left he just breaks them and leaves them on the floor (in a moment that will be reprised in Anatomie d'un rapport, where the unnamed character 'Christine Hébert' (really Marie-Christine Questerbert) goes on a smashing spree in the kitchen.

But the film is not without its (admittedly almost incestuous) loving moments: it's a little odd to see Jojo take off his socks as soon as he comes in from school, but then he uses his bare feet to stroke his sisters legs at the dinner table; and then just before she leaves to join her boyfriend, she kisses him tenderly on the nose.

Moullet makes his entrance to cinema without wiping his feet conventionally, and his whole film career will see him in his full unconventional glory.

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