“The Mouth Agape” is a film about the human position towards mortality that the director models on the members of a rather regular family going through a silent crisis connected with a sudden illness and quick death of the wife and the mother. By analyzing the reactions of the dying woman’s husband and son on this disaster, Pialat comes to the conclusion that the family ordeal says more about how people live than how they die or perceive the death of others, that there is a strong interconnectedness between our perception of death and the way we live.

Pialat focuses on people’s strategies of avoidance of thinking about their mortality, and through delicate hints and symbolic images reveals his understanding that it’s not that people fear death but rather they are afraid of what death can tell them not about itself, but about their life – meaningless, trivial, wasteful, superficial, in other words, conformist (cognitively passive). Pialat states that many people live with their mouth agape, that they notice only the surface of the reality and never question the meaning of their life. In other words, Pialat takes issue with the virtue of just being astonished by life, and he expects from us the ability to develop critical thinking.

The dying woman’s son and his wife (Nathalie Baye) are amorously and sexually a happy couple but their existential intelligence is completely localized inside concrete situations – it’s applied, instrumental in its character – it is an intelligence limited by everyday life. They never concentrate on the “abstract” problems like moral value of certain goals of life in comparison with others or “mechanisms” of functioning of the society.

Pialat’s seemingly “modest” film is a challenge for the viewers – it teases and provokes us, sometimes even playfully “insults” us in order to stimulate our introspection. But to meet Pialat’s ideas about life and death expressed through the colorful characters and real situations is an important experience that can make us change, become existentially more creative and able to experiment with otherness of the world.

Maurice Pialat

The husband moves to close his wife’s eyes (after she just passed away)

After a short ritual of farewell to deceased mother, her son and his wife dash off leaving his father’s home. They will try to forget what happened and will continue to live “beyond death” – as if life is smoothly forever.

After the mother’s death the next generation lives, as though, nothing happened – life is continuing in spite of… (but a numbness settles in the soul)

Posted on Jan 5, 2013 –  Maurice Pialat’s “Mouth Agape/The Slack-Jawed Mug” (1974) – Mouth Agape as a Metaphor of a Conformist (Cognitively Passive) Position in Life by Acting-Out Politics