Palatable: Bluebeard

Bluebeard (2009)
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Written by Charles Perrault, Catherine Breillat
Produced by Sylvette Frydman, Jean-François Lepetit
Starring Lola Créton, Dominique Thomas, Daphné Baiwir, Marilou Lopes-Benites, Lola Giovannetti, Farida Khelfa, Isabelle Lapouge, Suzanne Foulquier, Laure Lapeyre

“Adolescence begins when children stop asking questions — because they know all the answers.”

–Evan Esar

Mutual malice differentiates Breillat’s companion to her surpassing, subsequent The Sleeping Beauty from most other portrayals of the gory, Gallic fairy tale. Two little sisters of the Fourth Republic sport with stories while browsing through a cluttered attic, where the bratty junior (Lopes-Benites) frightens her sensitive senior (Giovannetti) with a reading of Perrault’s parable. However, this telling strays significantly from that fabular classic: lovely sororal teens (Créton, Baiwir) boarded as a nunnery’s oblates in the late seventeenth century are dismissed by their abbess (Khelfa) after their father dies by his selfless heroism; his creditors leave they and their mother (Lapouge) in penury as abject as their bereavement, but Créton’s demoiselle leaps at a contiguous opportunity to wed a bloated, barbate count (Thomas) infamous for his suspected uxoricides. Once married, she luxuriates in his opulent castle while becharming her nobleman, until he intrusts to her his castle’s keys ere his leave with a forbiddance not to enter one of its many rooms. Every tableau of this picture and variance from its literary source breathes symbolical significance, and Breillat’s fans will readily recognize her idiomatic emblems in slaughtered fowl and accumbency abed, but the key to its burden resides in the thematic equipollence of its eponymous, crinally converse sisters. For art and awareness, the presumed “porno auteuriste” again succeeds where so many other feminist filmmakers stumble, not least because her acknowledgement of biopsychology negates the fantastic self-aggrandizement and victimization that ruined their movement. Any of Hollywood’s pampered, obese activists would’ve distorted this folktale as an example of thwarted patriarchy, but her barbarous lord and guileful bride instead effectuate gendered modes of rapacity, reflecting an incidental intimacy and attendant regret.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Breillat’s The Sleeping Beauty or those best among numerous adaptations of Bluebeard.

Palatable: Police

Police (1985)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
Written by Catherine Breillat, Maurice Pialat, Sylvie Pialat, Jacques Fieschi
Produced by Emmanuel Schlumberger, Daniel Toscan du Plantier
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Sophie Marceau, Richard Anconina, Jonathan Leïna, Sandrine Bonnaire, Franck Karoui, Pascale Rocard, Jacques Mathou
Depardieu registers far more of his characteristic charm than brutish menace as a gregarious, obtrusive inspector who falls as hard as concrete for the coolly opportunistic girlfriend (Marceau) of a Tunisian narcotics smuggler (Leïna) plying a dicey, lucrative trade with his four brothers. With DP Luciano Tovoli, Pialat beautifully presents a photogenic cast from whom he elicits prime performances, especially his superstar leads and fresh, fledgling Bonnaire as a friendly fille de joie whose kindly temperament is apposed in contrast to the shrewd stratagems of Marceau’s uncaring layabout, or a personable criminal lawyer (Anconina) who mixes with flics and felons alike to exploit both with unexpectedly treacherous consequences. Breillat later explored similar characters and scenarios in Dirty Like an Angel to reveal vulnerability beneath the tough superfices of interrogation and procedure that excite lovesick and callous idiosyncrasies proceeding from privation, but this collaboration with Pialat also postulates that neither French police nor the Arab criminals they pursued during the Fifth Republic’s zenith were either as detestable or reasonable as most might expect.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Dirty Like an Angel.

Palatable: Nocturnal Uproar

Nocturnal Uproar (1979)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Pierre Sayag
Starring Dominique Laffin, Bertrand Bonvoisin, Daniel Langlet, Dominique Basquin, Bruno Devoldère, Bruno Grimaldi, Joe Dallesandro, Marie-Hélène Breillat
In her sultry sophomore undertaking, Breillat’s again incarnate as her heroine, a pretty, pettish, dedicatedly labile budding filmmaker (Laffin) who revels in promiscuity whilst rationalizing her megrims…until she falls hard for a rugged roue (Bonvoisin) whose insouciance and aversion to commitment scuttle her wanton M.O. From an intellectualization of the irrational and aphrodisiacal, Breillat embodied the integral personal archetype inchoate in her first flick: lovable, insufferable beauties who she’d exploit in subsequent works through the early aughts. Singular even among her compatriots, she plumbs the chafing, ephemeral niches when the erotic and erratic concur, and the irrepressible salacity of her scenarios and characters are sure to gratify both her fans and enthusiasts of carnal cinema. During her tragically truncated career, Laffin enjoyed but a few meaty parts that she represented with vehement verisimilitude, and she’s as pertly beguiling here as she’d ever be. Appearances by Dallesandro and lovely Marie-Hélène are regrettably curtailed, but Serge Gainsbourg’s infectious rock score redresses their shortage.
Recommended for a double feature paired with A Real Young Girl.

Favorites: Sex is Comedy

Sex is Comedy (2002)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit, António da Cunha Telles
Starring Anne Parillaud, Grégoire Colin, Roxane Mesquida, Ashley Wanninger
Of the many romans a clef Breillat’s realized as novels and features, none are so satisfying or swollen with the feminist iconoclast’s insight as this fictionalized account of the Fat Girl shoot initiated immediately sequent, which exceeds both its subject and most other pictures treating of filmic production. Parillaud enacts a slimmer, sexier Breillat simulacrum with correspondent coiffure and sable ensemble, wrangling her onerous pair of pouting young actors: an insubordinate leading man (Colin, presumably interpreting Libero De Rienzo) opposite frigid Mesquida (as herself, essentially), whose mutual enmity discomfits their director’s undertaking and especially her ambition to actualize an exquisitely unsavory scene of seduction and sodomy. Channeling her directress, the Parisian player exactly exhibits her anxieties, adamance, longanimity, vagaries, prejudices and voracity to bare her unexpurgated temperament and experience to an audience with uncommon, commendable candor. Some of the Fat Girl staff were again employed here, and crew members are often featured in histrionic capacities performing their designated tasks. Nigh so amusing as illuminating, Breillat’s budget masterwork relates the delicate, deviling trials of filmmaking, and the thrilling triumph of a conception committed to film by one of the most pertinacious living auteurs.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Day for Night, A Man Vanishes or Fat Girl.

Favorites: The Last Mistress

The Last Mistress (2007)
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Written by Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly, Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit
Starring Fu’ad Aït Aattou, Asia Argento, Claude Sarraute, Roxane Mesquida, Yolande Moreau, Michael Lonsdale
A decade of shared lubricity, adoration, hardship and heartbreak bind the fates and souls of a sullenly sensual Spanish peeress (Argento) and her roué (Aattou) of passion matched who first spurns, then aggressively courts her before braving death by duel with her elderly English husband to win her hand and heart. Rived by tragedy and accompanying acrimony, their ardency seems stinted well ere his betrothal to a pristine, virtuous yet insipid noblewoman (Mesquida) with whom his devotion is reciprocal, but this renewal may not long survive a quiescent warmth for or the resolution of the foxy virago he thought he’d forsaken. Rococo costumery, hairstyling and Parisian venues of Breillat’s greatest critical and commercial success prove vivid 19th-century accoutrements to complement emotive niceties and incandescence educed from familiar players. As often before and since, she inspires treasures in redoubtable veterans and relative neophytes (as Mesquida, her most frequent favored actress) alike, but under her command, Argento’s coruscation as the fast and fickle noblewoman nearly eclipses her co-stars, consummating what may prove the role of her career — a fantastic feat that she’d never achieve under her father’s baton. One of d’Aurevilly’s most cunning ironies resides in the observations of an aged countess (Moreau) and her blasé husband (Lonsdale) who’ve acquaintance with all concerned, and whose tendencious adjudgements are more objective than any others pondered herein. Less ironic is Breillat’s sympathy for d’Aurevilly’s novel; echoing the precedent Prévost, his fascination with the full purview of a patrician woman’s pull and power in a predominately masculine society to verify the fugacity of fidelity and love’s endurance was undoubtedly irresistible to the finest living (if yet unacknowledged) feminist filmmaker.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Barry Lyndon.

Mediocre: A Real Young Girl

A Real Young Girl (1976)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Guy Azzi, Pierre-Richard Muller, André Génovès
Starring Charlotte Alexandra, Hiram Keller, Bruno Balp, Rita Maiden, Georges Guéret, Shirley Stoler
Misanthropy, sadistic seduction, bodily exploration and esthetic indulgence were still fresh themes for Breillat when she adapted her fourth novel as a drab debut feature to the revulsion of French viewers ere its proscription. On holiday with her stodgily bourgeois parents (Balp, Maiden) at a squalid rural locale, a sulky adolescent (Alexandra) broods idly, swoons over tacky pop songs, hatefully lusts for a hunky prole (Keller) employed in her father’s sawmill and introduces a farrago of foreign articles to her love canal. No stranger to scabrous characterization, Alexandra’s aptly cast and uninhibited as the pretentious and farouche flirt, a prototype of Breillat’s many dallying protagonists consumed by libido and whimsies. As bold as boring whenever it isn’t peevingly comedic, Breillat’s first film is effectively evocative of teenage ennui and concupiscence…often at the expense of any intentional entertainment.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Nocturnal Uproar.

Palatable: Abuse of Weakness

Abuse of Weakness (2013)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit, Jesus Gonzalez-Elvira, Nadia Khamlichi, Adrian Politowski, Nicolas Steil, Gilles Waterkeyn
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Kool Shen, Laurence Ursino, Christophe Sermet
Compulsion trumps cognizance when a veteran director (Huppert) incapacitated by ictus relinquishes a small fortune intended to fund her forthcoming production to an infamous grifter (Shen) who she’s cast in a bloody lead role in exchange for his repellent consort. Breillat’s bamboozlement by celebrity swindler Christophe Rocancourt enkindled first her roman a clef afore this adaptation in abidance of her entrenched autobiographical proclivities, and seems as much an explication as a depiction of her muddled credulity whilst disabled. Once again, she’s exploited her recherche knack for casting an experienced, masterly histrion opposite a talented amateur as leads to tremendous eclat: Huppert perfectly realizes the throes of cerebrovascular and epileptic seizure (and all their debilitating attendant symptoms) with no less conviction than Breillat’s caustic humor in barbed chaff with Shen’s loathsome, calculatedly prickly fraud, whose noxious taste and apparently fatuous comportment serve to brace the dissemblance of his practiced guile. Huppert’s as identifiable as any of the anterior actresses Breillat’s selected to play her similitudes (Alexandra, Laffin, Parillaud, et al.) but her co-star’s portrayal courts condign calumniation: nobody could reasonably confound glib, handsome Rocancourt with the comparatively crude confidence man personated by pug-ugly Shen. If it isn’t an entirely satisfactory revenge, Breillat’s still devised graphically penetrative pictures of her maladies, the oddly platonic infatuation by which she was mulcted, and the maladjusted victim complicit in her own ruination.

Sublime: Dirty Like an Angel

Dirty Like an Angel (1991)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Pierre Sayag, Emmanuel Schlumberger, Nella Banfi, Robert Boner, Alessandro Verdecchi
Starring Claude Brasseur, Lio, Claude-Jean Philippe, Nils Tavernier, Roland Amstutz, Léa Gabriele
Lust is the fillip that incites indiscretion, aggravates acrimony and effectuates love, irrevocably altering the relationship of two sexist detectives: a gruff senior inspector (Brasseur) whose failing health actually prompts a youthful impetuosity, and his handsome, miscreant subordinate (Tavernier) neglecting his pristine, pulchritudinous trophy wife (Lio) whilst relentlessly whoring. When a drug dealer whom the former has long befriended secretes himself after cozening his rivals, the aging investigator assigns his inconstant junior to guard this fugitive’s family as he pursues his marital treasure, whose desolation may impel her to receptivity. Despite her characters’ concupiscence and vulgarity, Rohmer’s idiom is palpable in the thoughtful and realistic deliberation of Breillat’s final contrivance in concern of flics, handily juggling the drama of both police procedure and assignations as she delineates them beyond initial expectations; Brasseur’s cantankerous cop unearths a dormant, uncharacteristic tenderness, and Lio plays the demure object of his jaundiced affections as neither a retiring mouse nor one of Breillat’s usual brooding coquettes. Both the weathered leading man and pop star turned histrionic neophyte do their immersive script justice, rendering mutual seduction to adoration through vituperation with praiseworthy plausibility. Autumnal Paris’s cozy milieu and a potentially inceptive conclusion amplify the perverse appeal of this lubricious dissentient’s most restrained project to date.
Recommended for a double feature paired with 36 Fillette.