April 11, 2009
99 Minutes — October 8, 1999
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Fat Girl; The Last Mistress]
Marie: Caroline Ducey [The Last Mistress]
Love Is Desolate. Romance Is Temporary. Sex Is Forever.
Frustrated by her partner’s refusal to make love to her, a schoolteacher embarks on a series of affairs.
A waif-like, semi-attractive woman watches her lover during a photo shoot. The man is pretending to be a matador and it’s obvious right away that he’s way more beautiful than she is. As they visit a cafe afterward he announces to her that their relationship is so deep now, that the very act of sex is unnecessary. Sex will dirty what they have, they are so above it. Sex is conventional and what they have is light-years beyond convention. She will not accept this, and with his approval, she is allowed to get her sexual needs met outside of that primary relationship.
Through voice-over, we know how much of a betrayal this is to her. She attempts to start lovemaking while in their all-white apartment, but he continues to concentrate on the TV while she concentrates on his body. She begs him to at least take his shirt off as she climbs into bed nude. He speaks with incredible dispassion about not wanting to be touched. She loses sleep over this, which is handy, because now she can go out at night and look for sex in nearby bars and cafes.
Her first contact is with a dense, but attractive man played by Italian pornstar Rocco Siffredi. He says his girlfriend recently died in a car crash, she mentions that she’s married. He continues the charade he’s always employed to get women, she makes herself even less available by telling a more strict truth. They drive around, makeout in a car, he asks for certain things to happen, she says “next time,” and then she heads off to her job as a teacher of grade-school children. She continuously wears white in this film.
The couple meet again later, and have a sex scene that is remarkable for both its explicitness and its complete lack of arousal for the audience. Siffredi was hired because he has certain physical attributes that are supposed to denote incredible masculinity, as well as having the “skill” to use that endowment on command, in front of a crew of filmmakers. That’s his body, in a state that we still rarely see in mainstream films. In post-release interviews, none of the participants have denied that actual sex took place in front of the camera. In other films, Breillat will dodge similar questions. “They never asked me if I actually killed someone in my films, why do they ask about real sex?”
While this sex is going on, Marie talks about the importance of sex to her, but again, with no passion whatsoever. It’s not clear if she even likes it very much. She is more upset at her partner’s lack of interest, than she seems to be in her missing orgasms.
Other couplings include a compelling S & M relationship with the principal of her school. This man, though old and not particularly attractive, claims to have bedded thousands of women. He listens, he talks with them, he gives them advice on literature and philosophy. Marie wants to explore giving up complete control to him. This leads to a scene that shows just how long it takes to have someone tied up to proper S & M specifications. She is gagged and becomes frightened, but not so much at the man, more at the feelings this surrender brings to her.
She is offered oral sex by a stranger in a stairway which doesn’t end well–or does it end exactly like it was supposed to.
Marie has a dream where a group of women are lying on beds with their lower halves through a little door. The upper half is bathed in white light and sensitive men are holding hands and nurturing. The other side is all red lights, lingerie, and naked aroused men taking turns with faceless bodies.
Marie becomes pregnant and through a too-explicit-for-me-to-watch childbirth, fulfills what she believes her body to be ultimately for.
Breillat again turns gender roles upside down, shows a woman on the prowl, makes no judgments about who she ends up with or what she ends up doing with these men. It shouldn’t be so revolutionary, but exactly how many directors in the world can show us the other side of the sexual coin like she can? I feel like I’ve completely drank the Kool-aid that Ms. Breillat has stirred for me. She’s not successful in everything she tries, but I’m so happy that she’s trying.
“Serious films about sex are rare, but it’s perhaps unsurprising that French writer/director Breillat should have produced such an extraordinarily focused study, as she’s been making movies on the subject since 1976. This is her most ambitious and audacious work to date. The story itself is so simple, it has the clarity of a fable: bored, depressed and ‘dishonored’ by her lover Paul’s lack of physical interest in her, schoolteacher Marie (Ducey) embarks on a sexual odyssey. That’s it for the plot. Breillat’s interest is in her heroine’s psychology, and in her steady growth through transgression, experiment and self-analysis, however painful or potentially self-destructive the consequences may be. Entailing a kind of sentimental education, the film is distinguished by its cool refusal to judge or applaud Marie’s actions; Breillat simply observes and analyzes. Not that her aesthetic is ‘realist’. Marie’s philosophical/poetic voice-over, the inexorable linear progress of her actions, and the stark, subtly stylized interiors situate the film in the realm of metaphor. At the same time, however, the very frank physicality roots it in a world recognizably our own, while the gaze at erotic activity results not in titillation but in a contemplation of sexual congress as an outward manifestation of deeper, more complex needs. Indeed, while this is clearly ‘a woman’s film’ in its point of view, the cool, detached air of inquiry, the focus on paraphernalia and emotional sophistication recall Bunuel, Borowczyk and Oshima.” — Time Out Film Guide 2007
“A movie that caused controversy because of its scenes of explicit sexual activity, some of which involved the well-endowed porn star Rocco Siffredi; otherwise it sis one of those films, typical of France, in which a woman’s search for sexual emancipation causes her to be abused by men. Finally, it becomes a twisted drama of revenge.” — ** Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008
“Notorious French film from writer-director Breillat about a woman who, rejected by her lover, goes on a sexual odyssey that leads her down some very strange paths. Novelty of sexual film from a woman’s point of view quickly wears off; it’s startlingly explicit but strangely un-erotic — and, more important, dull.” — *^ Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide
ROMANCETags: 4.9, Catherine Breillat, Drama, French