Breillat, cinema and sleeplessness

The final 10 minutes or so of Catherine Breillat’s À ma soeur! (2001) are—pardonnez mon français—fucking brutal. Throughout the film one definitely gets the sense that the whole thing is  steadily progressing towards some sort of a boil, but the totally abrupt eruption that Breillat rolls out for us is just… even if I’d known it were coming, I still would’ve been terribly startled and bothered.

OK, so the violence that suddenly wraps up the film is gruesome and horrible, and immediately after the film ends, it wouldn’t be stretch for the viewer to be genuinely pissed at Breillat for subjecting them to that (yes, I’m aware that there are all sorts of things in various other movies that make the ending of À ma soeur! seem like rien). Yet, for me, the visceral effect of À ma soeur! didn’t really kick in until I slipped into bed and tried my damndest to board a phantasmagoric rickshaw bound for Sleepy Ave.

I got hardly any slumber last night, and it’s not an exaggeration to attribute my sleeplessness to the troubling experience I had watching this film. That final barrage of images is so in-your-face, but it’s also weirdly sneaky: a mood of unease is obviously being conjured during and between each of the film’s key sequences, yet one can’t really identify this mood until it’s much, much too late—the film has already left its indelible mark.

The following exchange between Glenn Kenny and Breillat seems pertinent (taken from this interview over at the Auteurs):

Kenny: […] I saw À ma soeur! in Toronto on I think September 9th of 2001 and everybody thought, what a marvelous film but the ending seemed kind of arbitrary. And then a few days later came a very strong realization of how arbitrary disaster can seem.

Breillat: It’s funny you mention that because when I presented the film to the audience in Toronto for the official screening, I said, pay attention, because the next unexpected news item you see, the thing that is inconceivable that presents itself…you’ll see that you’re fascinated by that explosion of violence, the brutal violence. Violence is always brutal. And then 2 days later was September 11th. And the very ending of the film is in fact, funnily enough, based on a banal news story—not banal, but just the sort of news story that one reads in the papers fairly regularly. I added, of course, the line which says, “You’ll believe me, believe me if you want.”

Breillat’s approach gets results, no doubt; I only wonder whether the intellectual justification (kind-of-sort-of provided by la réalisatrice herself during both of the interviews included on the Criterion DVD) for said approach is going to hold up when evaluated in, say, 2011.


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One Response to “Breillat, cinema and sleeplessness”

  1. The Sconz Says:

    Why don’t we kill two birds with one stone? Before going to sleep, find a bill from the state legislature, try to read it, and in the morning you can tell me what you got out of it before falling asleep?

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