This collection of masterworks includes 1987’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, “Under the Sun of Satan,” with Gérard Depardieu and Sandrine Bonnaire; “Loulou,” a tale of tortured love with Isabelle Huppert and Depardieu; “Van Gogh,” a chronicle of the last days of the artist; family drama “The Mouth Agape,” with Nathalie Baye; and the slice-of-life film about teenagers in suburban France “Graduate First.”
Maurice Pialat’s influence in the years after his death in 2003 was everywhere, but while he was alive he wasn’t part of any movement. A late bloomer who was 40 before he finished his first fiction feature (1968’s Naked Childhood), he missed the New Wave—a fact he seemed to resent, though his irascible personality likely meant he wouldn’t have belonged to any club which would have had him as a member.
Pialat made rule-breaking, violently disorienting movies full of temporal leaps and jagged improvisations, impolite movies about insoluble dilemmas and impossible personalities—women and men who can’t or won’t allow themselves to be tamed, and the tug-of-war between desire and responsibility. While intensely grounded in the cinema, citing the Lumière Brothers as his masters, Pialat rejected cinephile culture and lunged headlong into the material stuff of life, love, sex, and death. (He’s often compared to John Cassavetes, but this overlooks the particularities of both men.) Pialat’s films aren’t exercises but exorcisms, wounded howls at the injustice of existence whose anguished power is intensified by an acute awareness of the beauty of being alive. In a national cinema often associated with dainty sophistication, Maurice Pialat is the epitome of raw power.