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October 15, 2004

Breillat Alert

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Bitter experience teaches you to avoid recommending some of the things you love most, doesn't it? I've taken three people to Bikram yoga classes, for example; while Bikram works magic on me, every single one of my buds hated it. And I've urged numerous friends to see the films of one of my favorite filmmakers, Catherine Breillat; not a soul has offered thanks.

Still, though I've learned to shut up about it, I do love Breillat's films. So I'm happy to see that the next few weeks will be a boon time for NYC fans of her work. Surely there are other fans? Or perhaps not. Perhaps, and not for the first time, I'm doomed to be the Cinephile Who Walks Alone.

  • Starting next Tuesday, Film Forum presents Sex is Comedy, a movie that's a couple of years old that I've been afraid would never get a commercial release in the States. Phew! The film seems to be the ultimate in erotic/modernist/philosophical self-reflectiveness. It's a staged, "fictional" recreation of the filming of a particularly difficult (ie., very naked, very disturbing) scene in Breillat's 2001 film "Fat Girl." It's a Breillat film, in other words, about the filming of an erotic scene in an earlier Breillat film. The actress from the scene in "Fat Girl" plays herself here; I wonder if the experience of reliving the previous, excruciating experience was doubly excruciating. I kind of hope it was. How do directors of arty-erotic movies do it? How do the performers get through their scenes? And what wonderfully pretentious musings will Breillat come up with this time around? Annie Parillaud plays the Breillat figure, which for some reason strikes me as a pitch-perfect bit of casting. If this film is like Breillat's others, it'll be perverse, distressing, high-minded, and delicious.

  • Breillat's most recent movie, Anatomy of Hell, opens today at the Angelika. From descriptions and reviews, it sounds like the ultimate wallow in exhibitionistic ecstasy and feminine self-loathing, and let's hear it for that. Amusingly, if a little alarmingly, the film co-stars the real-life porn performer Rocco Siffredi. Judging from the fact that Breillat also used Rocco in her 1999 film "Romance," he seems to be Breillat's conception of an ideal man -- ie., a stud who can get erect at will. Don't ever say that a feminist can't crave herself some big, hard dick.

Incidentally, if anyone wants to subject him/herself to "Romance" -- a film I'm both highly recommending and advising you to skip -- be sure to rent or buy the unrated version of the DVD. An R-rated version is available, too, and it's to be avoided. Given how extreme the sex in the film is, and what a lot of it there is, it's hard to imagine what would remain of interest in the film after being pruned to an R.

I blogged here about Breillat's exquisite and intense 2002 chamber drama Brief Crossing. Fat Girl is just as memorable, and ends with even more of a punch. The weirdest and most upsetting of Breillat's very weird and upsetting movies is her early A Real Young Girl. Although Breillat made this film before developing any filmmaking technique to speak of, "Young Girl" has all her themes, her looniness, and her power.

Did I mention that I just can't get enough of Breillat's distinctively offputting combo of spare style, incisive malice, narcissistic neuroticness, and radical French feminism? Hey, I find much of Simone de Beauvoir sexy too; French feminists seem to be anything but Anglo-style bluestockings. Watch Breillat's films if you dare, but don't say I didn't warn you. Here's an essay about "Romance" -- a bit long-winded, but I can see what the writer's getting at. Here's a smart J. Hoberman review of "Anatomy of Hell."

Be still my heart: I see at IMDB that the star of the movie Breillat is currently shooting is the beautiful model Laetitia Casta. What horrors could Breillat be thinking of visiting on the divine Laetitia? I can't wait to find out.



UPDATE: Many thanks to Dave Lull, who points out this Salon q&a with Toni Bentley. Bentley's wonderful and brave new book The Surrender is very much in the philosophical-ecstatic-novella-ish mode of Catherine Breillat's movies.

posted by Michael at October 15, 2004


Does anyone know what the plot of the Balzac novel that Breillat's making with Casta is?

Posted by: lindenen on October 15, 2004 4:06 PM

"It is in the Tuileries, just outside the Cafe des Feuillants, that Henri de Marsay first catches sight of the girl with the golden eyes and can almost believe in love. Haunted by her shimmery image, returning daily to the Tuileries for another glimpse of her dark beauty, he learns her name - Paquita Valdes - and discovers her address. But a fairy-tale princess has never been more inaccessibly locked in a tower as has Paquita in a mansion on the Rue Saint-Lazare. Vowing conquest, Henri de Marsay elaborately plots his seduction of the girl with the golden eyes, but with his sensual triumph comes the bitter revelation that he has a powerful rival for the love of Paquita - the Marquise de San-Real, his own half-sister. A cry of vengeance and the call of blood bring Balzac's taut exploration of the dark side of Parisian society in this novella from his trilogy, History of the Thirteen, to its unexpected if inevitable end."


Dave Lull

Posted by: Dave Lull on October 15, 2004 5:48 PM

I remember you wrote about "Sex is comedy" before, as I remember responding about my viewing experience then. Everyone left the cinema.

Turns out now, it is a utterly forgettable movie. For something called a comedy it has not a lot of humour. But if you hate French pomposity it can be funny though. Just remember you're guilty of anything, since you're a man.

Posted by: ijsbrand on October 16, 2004 5:44 AM

I wonder what Breillat and Bentley think of "Ths Sexual Life Of Catherine M.", which was a publishing sensation a couple of years ago?

Posted by: Michael Serafin on October 16, 2004 12:18 PM

"Film Director
"I think that it was the extreme paradox of a woman who is a major figure in the world of contemporary art, the sophisticated editor of the elegant magazine 'Art Press' who wrote about her sex life in an equally sophisticated way but which was very active and full of things like orgies, that people don't normally admit to."

"One is not diminished or different when one has made love to twenty-five anonymous men. You are neither changed physically, mentally nor intellectually. You have not lost your personal dignity."



Dave Lull

Posted by: Dave Lull on October 16, 2004 3:42 PM

"Bentley's wonderful and brave new book The Surrender is very much in the philosophical-ecstatic-novella-ish mode of Catherine Breillat's movies."

What we used to call gay porn. Undoubtedly ghosted by a guy named Larry who lives in a basment in Far Rockaway.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz on October 22, 2004 12:08 AM

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