Maurice Pialat, France, 1980


Meal scenes are frequent in the cinema, but are complicated to film and stage because of numerous bodies around the table, it’s difficult to gather everything and everyone in one shot, and the choice of axes is tricky. It is often the case that these scenes are a pretext to the actor pretending to eat. Here, Pialat films the duration of a real meal, lasting 9 minutes, creating life and reality by the simple fact that the actors, like the characters are really eating. Through the choice of the décor and the setting, the courtyard of a detached house, the oysters being eaten by the actors - a delicate task needing a minimum of concentration, he moves away from the psychological and fictional stake of the scene. Nelly (Isabelle Huppert) is pregnant by Loulou (Depardieu), a thug living off of quick fixes: during the course of the meal, she finds out about his family and his background, which is far removed from the cosy world from which she comes and doubts start to arise in her mind as she thinks about their future. Dishes are passed around, nearly tipping over at points. Amongst conversations that are difficult to follow, they talk about lemon, vinegar and feelings - “it stings”, and we hear the noise of cutlery and dishes banging together. Nonetheless, if through the act of eating, the characters’ and actors’ moves blend together and force them to improvise and adapt their acting (Isabelle Huppert/Nelly nearly chokes, coughing), they don’t forget about the fictional challenge that slowly emerges from their exchanges: with the child’s birth, will Loulou face having to go out to work? The camera is alert, it anticipates the unforeseen and welcomes it. Thereby, the dog, who, from the very start of the scene, was lurking around the table, creates a totally unpredictable and decisive incident: he starts chasing a chicken around the courtyard. The camera follows the movement, whilst Depardieu/Loulou, in a similar improvised move, go after it. Pialat decided to keep this take which makes the offset between Nelly and Loulou even more poignant: distracted by the incident and focused by the amusement, they don’t see, unlike the spectators, the melancholy look creeping over her face.