Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Le Piège d'Issoudun: Motherhood in Crisis1

Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Le Piège d'Issoudun: Motherhood in Crisis1

Article excerpt

J'ai vécu des moments très noirs avec mes propres enfants, non à cause d'eux mais de moi, que j'ai vécu des moments très, très, très difficiles, très épuisants d'être rendu à un bout de dire-de me dire à moi-même-y a quelqu'un qui pourra m'enlever des gens? [I lived very dark moments with my own children, not because of them but because of me. I had very, very, very difficult, exhausting times, even to the point of saying-to myself-can someone take these people off my hands?] (Micheline Lanctôt, Le mythe de la bonne mère)2

Few audiences mistake fairy-tale films for documentaries. Yet as in any other fictional form, such movies seek some level of verisimilitude. Quebec actor/ writer/director Micheline Lanctôt's 2003 Le piège d'Issoudun (The Issoudun Exit/Trap; English title The Juniper Tree, henceforth Issoudun) addresses a realistic topic: the inchoate desperation of an early twenty-first-century privileged woman.3 In exploring her character Esther's nameless and ultimately unidentified problems,4 Lanctôt juxtaposes a play based on the Grimm version of tale type ATU 720, "The Juniper Tree," with a neorealist story evoking the same narrative, set in suburban Montreal, Canada.5 Lanctôt's rendition of the narrative addresses the complexities of a culturally tabooed subject-child murder by mothers, ma- ternal filicide6-without offering pat psychological or sociological explanations. Viewer online reviews, among other reactions, show audiences disturbed by the absence of overt justification for Esther's actions. Responding to what I see as a misreading of the film's realist elements as unmotivated or merely horrific, I argue that the neorealist story, illuminated by the fairy-tale play, benefits from an understanding of feminist analysis of maternal filicide. Given Lanctôt's other reflections on mothering, especially her 2006 documentary Le mythe de la bonne mère (The myth of the good mother, henceforth Le mythe), I contend that Issoudun offers a serious intervention on the social issues it addresses. I focus on explaining the film's realist elements via the fairy-tale play, noting their intersections. Other perspectives would shed further light on the film-indeed, it merits such consider- ation-including using the realistic narrative to illuminate the tale-type, but such work must await another essay. I also warn those who have not seen the film that I disclose crucial plot elements including the ending. Spoiler alert!

Issoudun's doubled narratives, and its totality, are versions of tale-type ATU 720. Each traditional fairy tale's telling, regardless of its medium and including film, forms a copy of which there is no original. As Donald Haase argues, sin- gle-authored written texts offer poor models for understanding traditional fairy tales. Every version, a snapshot in time and space, simultaneously refers to its predecessors (see, e.g., Sale). As adaptations, "repetition without replication" (Hutcheon 7), fairy-tale films (see Zipes; Greenhill and Matrix; Bacchilega) offer "acknowledged transposition of a recognizable other work or works. . . . A creative and an interpretive act of appropriation/salvaging" (Hutcheon 7; see also Sanders). Linda Hutcheon calls adaptation "a derivation that is not derivative-a work that is second without being secondary. It is its own palimpsestic thing" (9). Fairy-tale films, like Issoudun, sometimes transpose a traditional narrative into a quotidian present-day world; many draw a bleak picture with no conventional happy ending. Both live action (see, e.g., Kohm and Greenhill) and animated (see, e.g., Greenhill and Kohm) fairy-tale films can demonstrate brutal realism-as does Issoudun.7

Another feature-length film, American Nietzchka Keene's 1990 The Juniper Tree, also draws on ATU 720. (Much background information here comes from my collaborative article on it [Greenhill and Brydon].) Zipes locates films about ATU 720 with "Hansel and Gretel," "Tom Thumb," "The Pied Piper," and "Donkeyskin," as addressing "abusing and abandoning children" (193-223). …

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