Posts Tagged ‘Catherine Breillat’

Worth a look: Breillat’s “Bluebeard”

July 2, 2010

I honestly didn’t expect to be as knocked out by Catherine Breillat’s sublime adaptation of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale as I was. I’m not sure I’ve seen a film released in the US this year so laden with truly shocking moments—not just because of their sometimes violent content but also because of their formal daring.

The last quarter or so of this exceptionally tight film struck me as being so sui generis, so singularly expressive, I couldn’t help but think that Breillat had achieved something at the level of film form that places her among such provocative and rigorously systematic stylists as Robert Bresson and Straub-Huillet. Perhaps I’m overreacting. Who knows. Nevertheless, I’m prepared to claim that “Bluebeard” is mandatory viewing for anybody genuinely interested in the medium’s formal possibilities.

Here’s the kicker: If Breillat’s “Fat Girl” or “Sex Is Comedy” or even “The Last Mistress” were more or less postmodernist in their graphic melding of humor, sex and trauma, “Bluebeard” is a more resolutely modernist work, delighting in its own elliptical mode of narration and striking yet economically composed images. It’ll be interesting to see which direction Breillat heads in next: Should she continue to mine this vein of bold formalism (something that was also present, or at least hinted at, in “The Last Mistress”) or return to her previous project of pushing film content to its pornographic limits?

“Bluebeard” is now available for rental at Four Star Video Heaven. Very, very highly recommended.

For good measure, here’s the film’s trailer (en français):

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Fixing to skedaddle

March 26, 2010

Wasn’t March a kick? I thought so too, for the most part. Did you read the DC’s April Fools’ edition yesterday (featuring a column from yours truly, but that’s neither here nor there)? If you didn’t, I recommend tracking down a copy: it was legitimately hysterical.

Anyway, CineMadison will be going on hiatus from today until next Monday. It’s spring break and eight days of cutting loose is at the top of the agenda. In case you were wondering, I’m driving to Boston tonight with a couple of dear friends, both of whom have agreed to put up with my slight phobia of driving in return for me putting up with their slight habit of chain-smoking (no disrespect to any of you chain-smokers out there). It’s doubtful that I’ll get a chance to see any films while we’re gone, which will mark my longest dry spell in months. However, cinema will still be very much on my mind all the time. I hope it’ll be on yours as well. Let’s have some constructive dialogue when we all get back, ya hear?

If you’re going to be in or near Manhattan next week, be sure to mosey on over to the IFC Center on 6th Ave to see Catherine Breillat’s “Bluebeard,” which opens there today. I’ve always found Breillat to be a pretty hit-or-miss artist (and if any of the contemporary French filmmakers deserves the “auteur” label, it’s gotta be her); but even when she misses it’s affecting—and usually in a defiant, challengingly unpleasant way. “Bluebeard” was reviewed this week by the Times’ Manohla Dargis and the Voice’s J. Hoberman; both paint the picture of a film at once morbid and nostalgic, dark and whimsical, sensitive to the latent psychopathology hiding in the heart of all human practices—including the writing and telling of fairy tales. Unfortunately it’d be the schlep-to-end-all-schleps for me to get down to NYC to join you for a matinee.

On Tuesday (or more precisely, at midnight on Monday) the Criterion Collection’s new 4-disc Pedro Costa set, “Letters from Fontainhas,” which consists of the films “Ossos” (1997), “In Vanda’s Room” (2000) and “Colossal Youth” (2006), will be available at Four Star Video Heaven. This is probably the most anticipated home video release of the year, and for damn good reason: by all accounts, Costa is among the most important artists working today. Enjoy the spareness, the stillness, the desperation. Here’s a link to the New Yorker’s Richard Brody’s review of the entire set. Can’t wait to tear through these when I return to Madison.

Also, be sure to check out Kenneth Burns’ positive—and autobiographical—review of “Greenberg” in this week’s issue of the Isthmus.

Alright dear reader, I oughta get while the gettin’s good. I’ll see you a week from Monday. Don’t you go and cut your hair.

Distant voices

March 3, 2010

Two things worth checking out in this week’s issue of the Village Voice:

1. J. Hoberman is back from hiatus and has written about Tim Burton’s soon-to-be-released-in-3D interpretation of “Alice in Wonderland.” I guess you’ll have to let me know how that one turns out.

2. Melissa Anderson interviews Catherine Breillat, who, as is her shtick, says some head-scratching stuff. Exhibit A:

In [“Bluebeard”], the consequences are dire for him, not for her. In the past, we’ve had stories like Eve, who takes the apple of knowledge and tempts Adam to bite into it. So she’s the one who’s guilty—she’s responsible. Here, it’s he who’s responsible. He’s the one who holds the tiny key out to her. As a very young girl, I was drawn to the image of the [murdered] wives hanging in the room—I love this image of the eternally fresh blood that was like a mirror under them. That, to me, is a vision of the eternity of women.

But not everything Breillat says is so morbid; indeed, some of it is sort of… heartwarming. Exhibit B:

[My sister and I are] very close in age, separated by only 13 months, so we always loved each other, but we also hated each other passionately. My sister never wanted me to deal with the subject of sisters in my films, and I respected that up until Fat Girl. And though she didn’t see the film, it made her furious with me, and we had a rupture as a result. When it came time to make Bluebeard, I figured I didn’t have to pull any punches and I could kill her off, since we weren’t on speaking terms anyway. [Laughs.] But she saw the film, and, oddly enough, we’ve reconciled.

The power of cinema, etc., etc.

Favorites from the decade that was

January 5, 2010

Fifty fillets of film, alphabetically ordered. Now I can finally get on with my life.

Click here to check out the list/encyclopedia.

Breillat, cinema and sleeplessness

November 11, 2009

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.