Monique Mélinand portrays a woman in the late stages of terminal illness. Her son Philippe (Philippe Léotard), Philippe’s wife Nathalie (Nathalie Baye), and her husband Roger (Hubert Deschamps) attempt to comfort her as she navigates through her ordeal. However, those two closest men in her personal life begin to get more involved in their relationships with multiple mistresses. Her husband flirts with customers in their clothing and haberdashery store while her son flirts with her nurses. The film incorporates elements of Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte to poetic effect, relating to these scenes. In the end scenes, she goes through several final, deeply emotional moments as the disease claims her life. (Wikipedia)
The Mouth Agape opens in a hospital, with Monique (Monique Melinand) undergoing some kind of test that looks kind of like an MRI. Her son Philippe (Philippe Léotard) is in attendance and seems relieved when an attending nurse assures him there’s nothing to worry about, that Monique may need a cane and has a bone spur, but that’s it. In one of the film’s kind of odd elisions, after some interstitial dialogue, it’s revealed that Monique actually is mortally ill and only has a few weeks left to live. I may frankly have missed some subtext, but it was unclear to me in the film’s opening scenes whether Monique knew this at the initial appointment, or found out about it later. It’s a small plot point in the overall scheme of things but perhaps serves as an example that Pialat is not one to hand hold his audience, instead expecting them to perceive context and relationships out of what’s provided, which at times is somewhat discursive.
The film takes an unsparing and surprisingly unsentimental look at Monique’s decline and ultimate demise (it’s obvious from the get go that her death is coming, so this is not much of a “spoiler”). Playing around the fringes of this already sad story is the family’s dysfunction, one exemplified by a long history of infidelity vis a vis Nathalie’s estranged husband Roger (Hubert Deschamps), a behavior he’s evidently passed down to his son Philippe. Philippe’s indiscretions are roiling his relationship with his wife Nathalie (Nathalie Baye). Despite an obviously gripping emotional subtext running rampant throughout The Mouth Agape, the film is rather amazingly restrained, eschewing histrionics for a kind of depressive interior atmosphere that may make it a hard pill to swallow for those who want things filled with over the top interactions.
Pialat attempts to weave a bit of Mozart’s Così fan tutte into both the soundtrack and the overall ambience of the film. It’s an ironic choice, since the opera’s title can be translated (more or less, anyway) as “women are like that”. It’s obvious that in the case of The Mouth Agape, it’s actually the men who are “like that”, a gender reversal of sorts that will strike many (including probably most women) as being completely believable.