director Catherine Breillat
She may be no Agnès Varda or Claire Denis, but Catherine Breillat is a significant and important French film director. Breillat’s filmography started somewhat sporadically, but has always keened in on the feminine and in particular feminine sexuality. What makes her films so radical is how deeply centered they are in the point of view of their female protagonists, how openly they encounter and explore sexuality, with unapologetic frankness.
Why is this so radical? Who else has done this? Ever?
I don’t claim any expertise regarding Breillat. I have only seen two other of her films to date, 36 Fillette (1988) and Bluebeard (2009), but whatever her shortcomings as a writer or filmmaker, she offers a perspective that is refreshingly different from almost anything else.
No moment of Romance is one unaware that the story and perspective are told from a woman’s point-of-view. It’s the story of Marie (Caroline Ducey) narrating in voiceover, a woman exploring her sexuality through a series of encounters sought out as her boyfriend refuses to satisfy her. In the case of Romance, the sex is explicit, but it’s not just physical, but intellectual as a pursuit. And beyond the acts of sex, Breillat explores the social roles of women’s sexuality, from the gynecological table to motherhood.
It’s hard not to think of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013), which in some ways explores similar territory. Except. Of course, it’s Lars Von Trier’s take of female sexuality, a decidedly male interpretation, perhaps even decidedly misogynistic.
The power of Breillat’s vision and voice transcends to an extent the film’s quality. Is it pretentious? Is it at times absurd? Clumsy? I don’t even really know. I do recommend reading Roger Ebert’s write-up of the film from 1999.
Breillat’s is a important feminist cinema.