Posts Tagged “Catherine Breillat”

ANATOMY OF HELL
2004

June 6, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French
77 Minutes
Drama / Adult
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; Fat Girl; Brief Crossing; Sex Is Comedy; The Last Mistress]
Woman . . . Amira Casar [The Last Mistress]
Man . . . Rocco Siffredi [Romance; And 384 Adult Titles]

By far the lowest rated of Catherine Breillat’s canon. She has become something of a hero to me, saying things that others don’t dare. Showing us films that others won’t (can’t) make. Admitting that adolescent girls are every bit as messed up and horny as adolescent boys. Some of her bravery comes from the the fact that she is one of just a handful of female directors with the power and vision to write and direct their own films. Because she is coming from a different perspective than male-dominated Hollywood (or Paris or London or Mexico), she makes films that seem so different from the mainstream as to be created simply for men to argue about.

This is my 9th experience with Ms. Breillat and it was perhaps the hardest to watch. If this was her sole goal, then, mission accomplished. But when you watch enough of her films, a central pattern begins to emerge. She is setting out to document the psycho-sexual inner life of women. Or perhaps, just one woman–herself.

She has shown us young teenage girls awakening to lust while still being horrified by their changing bodies (A REAL YOUNG GIRL & 36 FILLETTE). She showed us a relationship between an older woman and younger man and how his jealousy and shame can be dangerous to her (PERFECT LOVE). She told the story in ROMANCE about a man so diabolical that he stopped craving sex from his attractive wife and gave her permission to meet her needs elsewhere–his betrayal so severe, that she never forgives him. In FAT GIRL, two sisters discuss the goal of losing their virginity while on summer holiday–the pretty one requiring her suitor to promise her the stars and moon while the chubby one watches and hears everything. BRIEF CROSSING gave the woman the upper hand in a seduction over a brave-talking but ultimately scared teenage boy. SEX IS COMEDY was a rare mis-step which recounted the filming of FAT GIRL. THE LAST MISTRESS used a costume drama to remind us that sexual power, specifically female sexual power is surely the mightiest weapon of all.

ANATOMY OF HELL, however, has just two roles. One is a suicidal woman, who slits her wrists within the first five minutes because “I’m a woman”, and a gay man, who comes to her aid, gets fellated as a thank you, and is then hired to watch her and come to grips with everything revolting about women to gay (and indeed, straight) men. “Watch” is probably not a strong enough word for what she’s going to ask him to do. She’s asked him to inspect, to probe, to use her in any way he wants in order to come to some great understanding between men and women.

He will be paid to watch her for four consecutive nights. He seems unhappy to be spending his evenings in a sparsely decorated beach house, watching a clearly-damaged woman exorcise her demons.

The characters are named “woman” and “man” and they are symbols of every male and female, I suppose. Women are leery enough about their bodies and what they do and what they produce and how the bleed and how they look without having a man, let alone a gay one not interested in sex, violate them with eyes, digits, and other items. The violations are ultimately psychological, not physical, and who ends up with the power in such a rare relationship is a question I didn’t find the answer to.

The two actors are attractive. Amira Casar is pale and sexy and has a mischievous smile–though she’s usually in such a dour mood that smiling is out of the question. We are told in a unique pre-credit that the really close close-ups of a woman’s anatomy were “performed” by a body-double. Miss Casar is free to find acting work again. The man is played by Rocco Siffredi, who is by far the world’s most well-known straight porn star. He is saddled with heavy, serious, existential dialogue that perhaps no actor on earth could convincingly utter. In the mouth of Rocco, who I confess to knowing in a completely different way, it sounds better than it has any right to.

He is a better actor than he should be and in this film, more so than in ROMANCE where his main acting challenge was tumescence, he gets a chance to actually act. Half of the film is dependent on him. Though his quick arousal on several occasions doesn’t help him prove the avowed homosexuality his character claims. And if you’ve seen any of Rocco’s other “work” you’ll know that some of the acts he’s expected to do in this film, though shocking to mainstream audiences, are not even close to what he willingly does in adult fare with titles that begin with “Rocco’s Adventure In…” So don’t cry for Rocco. On the other hand, you might just cry for the dialogue which sounds artificial and stilted and grad-student deep. I didn’t buy for a minute that either of these characters would speak this way.

On the squeamish meter, this one is off the charts. Saliva, mucus, tears, sperm, vaginal fluids, a squished stomped on baby bird, a nude six-year-old, a garden tool, an exaggeratedly messy menstrual act of intercourse, an eggplant-shaped stone, a water glass, and a used tampon all make appearances. If you gagged while reading that, you might just take this film off your queue. I didn’t remember seeing earwax, tree sap, vomit, urine, or honey, which have all shown up in previous Breillat films.

On the other hand, several of the scenes (which are divided by titles reading “First Night”, “Second Night”, etc.) revolve around The Woman’s menstrual cycle, which is scary and off-putting and inconvenient to a lot of women, and positively horrifying to many men. “Bleeding without the benefit of a wound” is how the female character describes it. Men, here is your chance to “experience” the miracle that is the monthly cycle of human renewal. I almost watched the whole thing without the use of my patented hand in front of face with fingers splayed technique. Almost.

Now is The Man violating The Woman? He is clearly doing things that one doesn’t do to and with a stranger. Is she mentally violating him? She’s asking him to do things that she wouldn’t ask her lover to do. Is there any exploitation going on between the two of them? Are we as viewers complicit in the experience as we are voyeurs watching from the comfort of our couches? And by the way, this might be the first non-porn that I’d not have the balls to watch in a public theater. I again thank the inventors of the DVD.

Though there is insertion and erection and vasocongestion, there isn’t an arousing scene in the film. And, though the narrator’s voice is Breillat’s own, the character she is speaking for is not Woman, but Man. There is a late scene in a bar where Man recounts his exploits that seemed to me to be completely honest and well-played. Think about a sexual exploit described to others in a social situation. Neither men nor women ever recap the important parts of the coupling. They can’t. You can’t describe how you felt, you can only describe what you did. Watch The Man’s attitude change as he realizes that he’s describing a completely different experience to his bar buddy than the one we just watched.

The film runs a normally-brief 75 minutes, but it’s a squirm-inducing 75 minutes. The DVD includes an interview with Ms. Breillat wherein she completely deconstructs what we’ve just seen. This interview, which I loved, ran 65 minutes on its own. Which says something about the impenetrableness of ANATOMY OF HELL. If an interview about a film and its meaning and symbolism last as long as the very film being broken down, what does that say about its accessibility? This interview will prove to be an endurance test if you think that Breillat’s philosophy doesn’t amount to anything. But if you’re a fan of her work and attitude (as I am), you’ll like it.

There are plenty of films where a self-described student of film is supposed to feel some sense of accomplishment merely for having sat through its complete running time. I’ve never seen SALO, but I’ve heard things. I’ve also never watched TWO GIRLS AND A CUP or whatever that web video is that makes people spontaneously combust while watching. IRREVERSIBLE was an ordeal, but it had a purpose. I don’t think that Breillat is hitting us over the head with so many hard-to-watch images simply to see if we’ll make it to the credits. I have way more respect for her than that. I really believe that she is a singular talent who tells stories that others are afraid to, from a perspective that others don’t have. There are few filmmakers I’d like to meet, but Ms. Breillat is one of them.

She believes in the transcendence of sex. She believes that lust and deviance are marks of humanity. And she believes that only when you give up power and puritanical ideas of shame, can you be free.

Or at least I think she believes that stuff. She says all of this in French, after all.

* Ebert
D Gleiberman
2.9 Metacritic
4.3 IMDB

Anatomy of Hell @ Amazon

ANATOMY OF HELL

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2002

May 10, 2009
Netflix DVD
France / Portugal
French
92 Minutes
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; Fat Girl; Brief Crossing; The Last Mistress]

A female director struggles to get a scene of sexual intercourse on film.

**^ Ebert
**^ Berardinelli
B+ Schwarzbaum
6.3 Metacritic
5.9 IMDB

Sex Is Comedy @ Amazon

SEX IS COMEDY

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BRIEF CROSSING
2001

April 14, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French / English
80 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; Fat Girl; The Last Mistress]
Alice: Sarah Pratt [The Last Mistress]
Thomas: Gilles Guillain

Alice and Thomas meet on a ferry in the cafeteria line. He can’t find a seat, she offers one at her table. He says he is 18 and loves to smoke cigarettes. She listens bored. At first. His immature small talk begins to change as they watch each other eat. She is in her mid-thirties and says she is moving back to England after her husband asked for a divorce after eight years of marriage. His true age of 16 is discovered when they try to buy booze at the Duty-free shop. She begins to feel protective and when he suggests they get a drink in the lounge, she accepts. He drinks soda while she enjoys a brandy and a few people dance in the background. This scene goes on for quite some time. Maybe 20 minutes. But it’s not boring. Alice continues her “all men suck” statements while Thomas counters with “I don’t suck” statements. She gets tipsy and he asks her to dance. She feels much older than the others in the lounge, but she accepts to placate him. He even dances immaturely grabbing her inappropriately. Back at the table, a long scene takes place where a magician and his assistant perform a trick involving a woman in a box. This symbolism is hammered home by Alice’s speech about women knowing their places, etc. But something is happening that is just out of frame. Before we realize it, they are holding hands. He is bravely stroking her arm, she is happy about it, and they look suddenly like a normal pair of lovers. Just a couple, on a boat, holding hands in a bar.

He tries to kiss her, she pushes him away, he is hurt, she goes back to tell him it’s okay. He states his intentions brazenly, saying “I want to sleep with you.” Or is it naivete? She has a cabin on the ship, he only has a place where he’s set down his luggage. They go to her room. He is a virgin. She is angry at her ex-husband and therefore all other men. Her seduction was spontaneous, wasn’t it? But why is there a red scarf covering the lamp in her room to make it more romantic?

This is probably the most accessible of Breillat’s films. It’s a short 80 minutes. There are only two characters to keep track of. There is scarcely a body fluid to contend with. At no point did I turn my head from the screen. There is a realistically clumsy loss of virginity scene. The gender roles are again reversed. We think nothing of a man being 15 years older than a lover, but rarely do we see the opposite. The fact that Alice looks like Julianne Moore doesn’t make the idea any less rare. When she lets her hair down, and when he becomes emboldened (by lust or her responses or the alcohol he drinks or her beauty), they seem to turn into a realistic, viable couple who share a passion for each other.

But just because they are both able to perform sexually does not mean that they expect the same things from each other. He is completely smitten with her, she seems to return his feelings cautiously. They will be arriving in England in 20 minutes. What will become of them once they get there?

“A thirtysomething Englishwoman and a 16-year-old French boy meet, converse, and engage in a one-night stand while on board a ferry crossing the English Channel. Another of Breillat’s cynical forays into male-female expectation and manipulation, this one offering her usual generalizations about male sexuality. Leaves a bitter aftertaste.” — ** Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

7.2 IMDB

Brief Crossing @ Amazon

BRIEF CROSSING

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FAT GIRL
2001

April 13, 2009
December 2, 2006
Criterion DVD
France / Italy
French / Italian / English
86 Minutes
Drama
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; The Last Mistress]

An overweight 12-year-old girl observes her pretty, 15-year-old sister’s sexual initiation on a summer holiday.

Elena and Anais are sisters. Elena is 15 and beautiful. Anais is 12 and pudgy. Elena is only allowed by their parents to leave the vacation home if she takes her younger sister along. At a sidewalk cafe, she meets an Italian law student who offers the two girls a place to sit, and then buys them something from the menu. Anais picks a banana split (“my favorite”). Elena spends her time sharing cigarettes and flirting with the older man. Anais directs her attention to the ice cream. Anais is forced to wait at the driveway for Elena to finish with her “date”. Having just met each other is no reason to avoid a heavy makeout session before Elena is dropped off.

Elena has arranged for Fernando to sneak into the window of the bedroom both girls share. “Don’t embarrass me,” she says to her younger sister. “I have better things to do than worry about your sexual activity,” Anais replies. But the room isn’t very big and the private, persuasive pillow-talk is heard easily by Anais who pretends to be sleeping, but then watches as her older sister gives in to his advances — almost all the way. The younger sister is less intrigued or aroused than she is full of pity for her sister, who she later tells is making a mistake by actually caring about the man who is about to take her virginity.

Anais declares that she would rather have her first sexual experience with a stranger so that she won’t be attached to him, thereby taking away most of his masculine power. The young caressing couple speaks often about how she’ll never forget him and how he’s incredibly honored to be allowed the privilege of deflowering her. When she says no to a sexual advance, he says all the words that every man has used on every woman from the beginning of time. “This will be a proof of your love,” is a favorite he repeats several times. Though he seems sophisticated to the two girls, we see him for the sniveling, immature boy that he is. He steals a ring from his mother to give to Elena as proof of his “love.” An awkward exchange occurs when she pounds on the front door demanding its return.

In between the sexual give-and-take, there are honest scenes between the two sisters. They vary in their sisterly closeness. Sometimes, giggling together on the bed, recalling funny family experiences. Sometimes, telling each other that they are the only person they trust. And then Elena will remark while looking in the mirror that no one would guess that they were related. Anais is an extremely touching character. She play-acts a relationship with two men using items in the pool area, promising that her heart belongs to each of them. She is clumsy and has none of the glamor of her older sister. She is loved by her parents, but ridiculed a bit by them as well.

Breillat has again delved into the mind of the adolescent female, this time in two radically different characters. One who feels wise to the ways of men, but with little chance to act on her desires. The other, unable to control her power over men–when she sees how she effects them, she seems to want to believe them.

Virginity-losing films made in Hollywood are rarely done from the girl’s point of view. And they are almost always a light-hearted comedy where the act itself is shown to be nothing like the importance given to it. This film is different. This film is better.

“Elena is 15, old enough to understand the effect of her beauty on males, young enough to feel insecure and confused over how to lose her virginity to the right person. Her 12-year-old sister Anais, on the other hand, is fat, envious and insists that, when the time comes, she’d rather give herself to a stranger. Holidaying with their parents, the girls reach a new phase in their bickering when Elena starts seeing Italian law student Fernando, whose determination to have sex involves smooth talk that may persuade Elena of his romantic intentions, but doesn’t fool little sister, reluctant witness to his siegecraft from her bed across the room. What if mom or dad were to find out? Breillat’s typically tough but sensitive study of sisterly rivalry may be less philosophical in tone — not to mention less visually explicit — than its predecessor ROMANCE, but it remains notable for its refusal to provide a facile, politically correct account of adolescent experience. As psychological portrait and social critique, the film offers cruelly honest insights. Dark, disturbing and hugely impressive, it’s made all the more lucid by superb performances from the two young actresses.” — Time Out Film Guide 2007

“It is not merely that a boy will tell a girl almost anything to get her into bed, but that a girl will pretend to believe almost anything, because she is curious, too. FAT GIRL, seemingly more innocent, at times almost like one of those sophisticated French movies about an early summer of love, turns out to be more painful and shocking than we anticipate. It is like life, which has a way of interrupting our plans with its tragic priorities.” — ***^ Roger Ebert

“An often observant study of adolescent sexuality and sibling relationships vitiated by its violent ending.” * Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

“Potent drama from the always-provocative Breillat explores the complex relationship between two sisters, aged 15 and 12, who (like all the director’s heroines) are obsessed by sex. The older one is pretty and desirable; the other may be plump and miserable, but has her own yearnings. Breillat offers a voice to the title character, a type who is usually the object of scorn or ridicule. Features graphic sex scenes and an unsettling finale.” — *** Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

*** Berardinelli
7.7 Metacritic
6.4 IMDB

Fat Girl – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

FAT GIRL

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1999

April 11, 2009
DVD
France
French
99 Minutes — October 8, 1999
Drama
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

*** Ebert
*** Berardinelli
4.9 Metacritic
5.2 IMDB

Romance @ Amazon

ROMANCE

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PERFECT LOVE
1996

April 11, 2009
Netflix DVD
France
French
110 Minutes
Drama / Romance
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Fat Girl; The Last Mistress]
Frederique: Isabelle Renauld [The Last Mistress]
Christophe: Francis Renaud

The opening scene is the investigation of a murder. A man has murdered his girlfriend in her kitchen. Without emotion, he describes and re-enacts his crime with police inspectors. The rest of the film becomes a why-done-it.

We flash back to a wedding where an attractive 34-year-old woman toasts the new bride and groom, comments to a 20-something man that he’s grown since the last time she saw him, and is invited by that same man out to the garden where they sit on a bench and have a chat. The man, humorlessly, mentions that he’s dated women her age and that it’s no big deal. He will declare later that “our age difference is an injustice”, and right away he seems to be out to prove that the fact that she is twice married and has two children does not exclude her from his attention.

She looked to me like a French Diane Lane, so it’s not like she isn’t used to the attention of men. She seems strangely uninterested, but they begin an affair nonetheless. The man often remarks that he’s the mature one in the relationship. She wonders to his friends and sometimes to him, whether or not he’s actually gay. There are the early dates, the sloppy grope sessions outside her apartment, the juggling of parental duties and job duties (she’s an ophthalmologist–he made some money in his own company).

Because this is a Catherine Breillat film, there are scenes of sex which are long-lasting and awkward and vary in their success rate. At first they’re in a hurry to make love, later she requires more of something he can’t give. After sex, they do a lot of talking. We learn, seemingly, about every other person they’ve ever slept with. Again, weirdly dispassionately. They’re not bragging to each other, exactly, but this disclosure of past lovers seems to make no impression at all on the two of them.

The good times don’t last long. She’s a bit critical, he accuses her of keeping him on a short leash before she has the chance to. He misses his friends, misses the casual sex he used to have with his fellow clubgoers. She isn’t sure this young man is someone who should spend the night in her apartment with her children there. The sex slows down, the fights begin, the drinking starts, the vindictive comments hurt.

It’s not exactly a fun ride, but none of Ms. Breillat’s films are serene walks in the park. The fact that we know that this relationship will end in murder doesn’t hurt the story, but I’m not sure it helps it. We can see the mistakes we’ve made in our own relationships as we watch this. We can take one of the lovers’ side in their many arguments. We can wonder what one is doing with the other. We can wish we had someone as attractive as both of the leads are. But we always wonder exactly what could have gone so wrong for the man to kill his lover in a moment of passion on the kitchen table. Is there anything she could have done to deserve such a fate?

There are few body fluids this time out for Breillat. The man constantly drinks Coca Cola, as a shorthand to prove how much younger he is than she. He is cocky and rides a motorcycle. She is flippant with his love at first, and then ridicules his sexual powers later on. They are a bit of a miserable couple and we wonder why they stay together as long as they do.

His youth also results in the “I Love You” declaration way before we see it in the two characters and probably way before he actually means it. It’s one of the ways he forces what he wants to happen on a relationship where it might never happen. He flirts a bit inappropriately with her teenage daughter. He has boring sex with other women. She sits by while he chats up women in bars.

It’s all very angsty. But it also has moments of truth that anyone who’s been in a relationship can relate to.

“Breillat’s provocative drama charts how an idyllic affair between a divorcee — an optician with two kids — and a feckless, womanizing twenty-something leads to brutal murder. Though some may find the woman’s increasingly masochistic reactions to her young lover’s behavior questionable, the film is psychologically astute; just watch how the boy’s early curiosity about the woman’s greater experience slowly turns to insecurity and a determination to keep control. The performances are unsentimental, the tone uncompromising, and if the film ends up too schematic for its own good, there’s no denying its emotional punch or the intelligence of its dark insights.” — Time Out Film Guide 2007

6.6 IMDB

Perfect Love @ Amazon

PERFECT LOVE

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1988

December 7, 2008
Netflix DVD
France
French
88 Minutes — January 6, 1989
Romance / Drama
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; Fat Girl; The Last Mistress]

Lili is a 14-year-old girl, staying with her family in a tiny camper while on holiday at the French coast. The sun never shines. Her father is miserable and spends his time listening to sports with headphones, her mother is cold and distant, and her older brother is the source of sibling annoyance we can all identify with.

She is trying to get her head around the fact that her body is changing–drastically–while inside she remains a barely teenage girl. We’ve just entered the Catherine Breillat zone, where entire films are made attempting to describe the mind of a pubescent girl as she is both awed by her body’s power and scared shitless by it in equal measure. The title apparently refers to the size of the dress that Lili is literally busting out of as we see her head towards a disco with her older brother in search of–well, what is she really in search of? Not sex, exactly.

She wants to be older, to act older, to be taken seriously by older people (men), but has no way of knowing how adults speak to each other or act towards each other.

The plot, such as it is, involves Lili getting her brother, JP to get permission for the both of them to go out to the local disco in the seaside town where they’re camping. They hitchhike in an aging playboy’s BMW. She acts like a complete brat (or, a 14-year-old) and ends up screaming and leaving the car. The man says, under his breath “what’s the matter, I didn’t look at you enough?” And he’s right. She wants to be looked at and admired, but on her terms, which change on a minute-by-minute basis.

She gets her own ride by a middle-aged man who calls her a bitch when she doesn’t let his hand stay on her leg while he drives. She goes to a cafe where a famous musician looks up to see her devour him with her eyes. They have the only meaningful conversation of the film. She meets the group at the disco where a $20 gets her past the bouncer. There is clumsy passion–she encourages, then changes her mind. The Playboy and she then take a walk and end up in his hotel room where she promises nothing will happen.

This dance between the two–a young girl and a 40something balding convertible guy–is the main emotional focus of the film. Is she teasing him on purpose? How serious is she about calling the cops on him? Does he even want to sleep with her? He mentions that he no longer possesses the stamina to keep up with a teenager in the wee hours of the morning.

But the most important question to Lili is: how badly does she want to lose her virginity?

Much like the main character in A REAL YOUNG GIRL, Lili is more excited about the loss of virginity on paper than she is in practice. And she is an awful girl to hang out with. Is her youth and inexperience worth the trouble? That’s what the older man has to figure out. She feels that the boys her age at the campsite are beneath her, though they’d be a much better, if bumbling, partner for first time lovemaking.

36 fillette

Lili is another protagonist from the Breillat filmography who isn’t a victim or a seductive Lolita, but has every terrible behavioral trait that many young girls have–brattiness, boredom, meanness, taunting, put-downs, and mostly in Lili’s case, teasing–both in the childlike sense and in the sexualized sense. It’s hard to see what the older man can possibly get out of an interlude with Lili that wouldn’t be much more fulfilling with one of the many women available to him in the town. She simply isn’t that fantastic.

However, as a character, she certainly is well-rounded. Played by a 16-year-old actress named, Delphine Zentout, Lili must be both annoyingly adolescent and often charmingly seductive. She needs to be awkwardly sexual–to use her body and the hair over her eyes to make the men in the film–of all ages–believe she’s worth the trouble.

36 fillette

As usual after seeing something by Catherine Breillat, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the quality or what it’s trying to say. But I will continue to praise her for bringing stories that men can’t tell to the screen. She claims that this film is semi-autobiographical. But don’t most films by most directors include many incidents taken from real life. The difference here is that those incidents don’t show the main character in a particularly good light.

Get past the old man / young girl dynamic and think of it as the study of one realistic 14-year-old trying to find her way in the world. Thank you Ms. Breillat.

Two sidenotes: There is no bodily fluid in this film. A first. And this may be the single worst DVD transfer in the technology’s history. You’ll want to watch this on the smallest screen possible. I’m old enough to remember the unacceptable quality of foreign VHS tapes back in the 80s, so I should thank my lucky stars that this one isn’t that bad. However, ouch.

6.1 IMDB
***^ Ebert

36 Fillette @ Amazon

36 FILLETTE

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A REAL YOUNG GIRL
1976

November 1, 2008
Netflix DVD
France
French
89 Minutes
Drama
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; Fat Girl; The Last Mistress]

The title translation could more accurately be “A True Young Girl”, it shouldn’t be read as “A Really Young Girl”.

Alice is a French teenager who goes back to her home for summer vacation after being at boarding school. It is the early 1960s. She is horrified and intrigued by her budding sexuality and the effect she has on the men of her farming community. She flirts with leather-jacket boys in a soda shop, but her heart (or at least her out-of-control lust) belongs to a skinny, semi-creepy guy who works at the local lumber mill who she names “Jim” in her head. He avoids her come-ons because she’s too young. This doesn’t stop Alice, our heroine, from a rich fantasy life where she and Jim enjoy passionate interludes at the beach, in the woods, at the lumber mill, and in his car.

Alice is incredibly curious and as she’s an only child, she spends her time walking around her parents’ farmland and riding her bike into the small town. She watches TV with her parents and has an incredible crush on pop singers of both genders. She also sees how the cute, female singer captures mens’ attention. Alice isn’t sure how to use her power. She also finds a way to pull her panties down wherever she happens to be. She sits in the surf at the beach, she flashes a passing high-speed train, she touches herself on the tracks, and she makes sure that when she rides her bicycle, everyone gets a quick glimpse of her panties.

The men in the town stare, while the women remember when they used to be the subject of such attention and scorn her forwardness. Alice spills out of her too-revealing bikini, but sleeps in a little-girl nightgown. She “enjoys” the scornful looks her mother gives her when she sits on her father’s lap for just a moment too long.

Because Catherine Breillat is at the helm, we get all manner of fluids. This one has vomit, blood (a chicken is decapitated in close-up), semen (and its female equivalent), suntan oil, urine, soap, water, a crushed egg, milk, fly paper glue, dripping candlewax, tree sap, and somehow, even earwax. Breillat never met a visceral liquid she couldn’t use as symbol. When Alice first arrives home, we linger on flies trapped on flypaper, a dream sequence has Alice tied up with barbed wire. She wants to blossom, but is forced to conform.

Her parents’ relationship isn’t what she first thought. She begins to see her parents as sexual beings, she sits next to a flasher on a carnival ride, she sees how men look at her and can’t decide if she’s flattered or mortified.

This film is a shockingly honest (and explicit) story about the awkward and incomprehensible age when a girl changes into a woman. The body blossoms well before the mind can catch up. The scenes she concocts whereby she makes out on a beach with a pop star she’s seen on TV, includes a lot of rolling around and giggling, but no actual sexual contact. It’s as if she’s trying to learn how actual adults embrace and make love. She has seen some beach blanket films, but isn’t sure what happens after a couple finishes rolling around in the sand. In her most explicit dreams with Jim, no penetration occurs. Alice isn’t sure about the mechanics of lovemaking–she’s going on her teenage instincts which those of us well-past our teen years recognize were probably wrong more often than they were right. Try to remember what you thought sex was back when you were ten or eleven years old. Oops.

Is it good? I’m not sure. I always like a film where young people are allowed to be the sexual beings they’re going to become without some big punishment or morality tale. In slasher films, we see naked bodies just before those naked bodies are killed. This is a frank depiction of a young woman trying to make sense of her feelings about her body and her urges. I feel like it should be championed on that basis. I wasn’t bored, but neither was I riveted. The girl/woman who plays Alice, Charlotte Alexandra, was interesting enough. She had to be an innocent and a lolita in equal measure. She appears to have only made three films after this one, each about a temptress. Typecasting or is this the only role she can competently play?

I’ve read various pieces on this film and I’ve seen Alice’s age listed as young as 14, but I distinctly remember a line where her mother says that she’s going back for her final year of high school. I believe her to be 17 or so. But more important than the numerical age is the process that she’s going through. She admits to being disgusted with her budding body, but then decides to ride her bike down a country road bare-assed.

John Petrakis of the Chicago Tribune wrote something very insightful: “Breillat has long been fascinated with the idea that women are not allowed to go through puberty in private but instead seem to be on display for all to watch, a situation that has no parallel with boys.”

Is Catherine Breillat the single voice for young female sexuality in the movies? Perhaps. This film was completed in 1976, but not released until 2001 due to its content and difficult genre identity. Too artsy and well-acted to be porn. Too explicit to be part of the late 70s golden age of film. Too weird to be embraced by large audiences. What sets A REAL YOUNG GIRL apart is that the writer and director actually went through the urges and body-changes depicted in the film. She has felt the changes in her emotions and body, she hasn’t just read about them or guessed at them like a male director must. This is a very important difference and why I’ve decided to do an informal Catherine Breillat film festival. Spike Lee can direct a more honest MALCOLM X than Oliver Stone could have, John Woo does better Hong Kong than Quentin Tarantino, and Breillat can honestly depict the experiences of females (especially their sexuality) better than a man could.

Someone named Lauren Kaminsky has written a fantastic piece on this film here. Yes, Lauren is female, and yes, she sees things in A REAL YOUNG GIRL that males can’t.

“At its best, A Real Young Girl deals honestly with the uncertainties of an awkward transition, when girls are thrust into womanhood without knowing quite how to handle it. Breillat gets inside Alexandra’s head almost too well, viewing the world outside of it with a juvenile’s listlessness and contempt.” — Scott Tobias.

“The theories about sexuality and trauma artfully advanced in this previously unreleased 1975 debut of director Catherine Breillat (Romance, Fat Girl) are more nuanced and intuitive than those of most schools of psychology. Alice (Charlotte Alexandra) is as fixated on her genitals as are the men who expose theirs to her, in fantastic and realist sequences that blur the line between what she desperately wants, what repulses her, and what she actually experiences. While her mother aggressively does housework, complaining all the while about her life, Alice sunbathes and flirts–or more–with her father, who’s having an affair. It’s as if she’s biding her time until she manages to seduce one of his dreamier employees or, better yet, escapes by returning to school at the end of the summer vacation.” — The Chicago Reader

5.5 Metacritic
5.8 IMDB

A Real Young Girl @ Amazon

Catherine Breillat @ Amazon

A REAL YOUNG GIRL

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THE LAST MISTRESS
2007

July 31, 2008
San Jose CA — Camera 12
France / Italy
French
104 Minutes — June 27, 2008
Drama
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; Romance; Fat Girl]

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THE LAST MISTRESS is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 57. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:30 THE LAST MISTRESS Discussion
• Break
• 14:35 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 15:20 PINEAPPLE EXPRESS Discussion
• Break
• 34:35 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 35:15 The Last Five®
• Break
• 1:01:10 Show Notes/Credits and Outtakes

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Asia Argento [Queen Margot; Last Days; Marie Antoinette]

8.0 Metacritic
6.6 IMDB

THE LAST MISTRESS

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Written by Michael W. Cummins