Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bluebeard. (2010) Catherine Breillat

I have always had sour feelings in regard to Breillat, but I should have known better than to simply write her off. I should know better than to write any director off. It is an immature way to deal with art we don't understand. I still don't get the films I've seen in the past, which is only three or four, and at least one that I couldn't make all the way to the end (Anatomy of Hell, which is insufferable).

Over the years I've read great-thinking critics who have conviction in her power as a feminist filmmaker. I guess I thought I was going to learn something about feminism in seeing her films. Years ago I went to a Chicago Fat Girl screening, partially out of curiosity and partially wanting to find out what this feminist had to say. I still think it's just a film, there's nothing more to it than that.

Later I sat for half an hour with Anatomy of Hell until I realized that I could get more out of the videos in secluded rooms in the back of rental stores -- the kind that only appeal to prurient interests. I had much the same reaction to Romance.

I came to the conclusion that however that word "feminism" is being applied to Breillat, it is most certainly a wrong understanding of the word, that she is a peddler of a kind of film that corrupts, where the audience itself becomes the pornography for her. I felt for her works, like the Supreme Court once noted: "Taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."  I also said she represents a "feminist reverse-pornography" by exploiting the male's movie-going process and not allowing one to use her material as a masturbatory aid while sitting in a mainstream theater. That might be an extreme understanding, and a wrong one, but the point I was getting to is that she's a boundary pusher. The question is, "Does boundary pushing in and of itself legitimize what she is doing?" The boundaries have been pushed in better ways before. And honestly, with the availability of porn, why the need to push boundaries at all?

So when I heard about Bluebeard, I had a very loud laugh. The woman who has consistently shoved the vagina in our face for years is now directing a children's story? And perhaps even a trilogy of children's stories (Her next film is said to be Sleeping Beauty).

I decided to check it out when the DVD became available, based on a few of the friends at A&F and a review I read in Film Comment, which spoke of the work as mesmerizing. Which it is. And it is easily her best film to date.

Breillat finally comes through with a classic film, one that avoids all the manipulation and stimulation gimmickery she's relied upon in the past. In its place, she finds four girls, two of them little girls who are absolutely adorable, and relays a story that's still quite rife with feminist readings, I'm sure, but her approach is more tolerable (and even fun, in a creepy kind of way). It's like she has actually taken an interest in her audience. Her form is up to its usual high standards, and she finally weighs in with a lovely (again read: creepy) little story, which, knowing Breillat's history makes this whole event perplexing. It makes you wonder: Will the real Catherine Breillat please stand up?

I'll be looking forward to Sleeping Beauty, wondering what's gotten into Breillat. I'm still stumbling over this woman's films, but Bluebeard is a keeper, one I wouldn't be ashamed to add to my DVD collection.

There is an excellent spoiler-filled analysis of the film Here. Meantime, I'll be keeping an eye on Breillat.

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