Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard) (Catherine Breillat, 2009)
I have an odd relationship with the works of Catherine Breillat. I know many, many people who revere her films as masterpieces of transgressive cinema; I know an equal number, give or take a few, who find them loathsome, exploitative crap masquerading as art cinema. I can see both sides of the argument, but I have yet to be able to figure out which side of it I’m on. There just isn’t anything about Breillat’s work that excites me one way or the other; I seem to have this same problem with Gaspar Noe. While Bluebeard—of the Breillat works I have seen to date, by far the most accessible to a general audience—did not break through that barrier, it’s come the closest.
If you know your fairy tales, you know the story here. Unspeakably wealthy chap Bluebeard (22 Bullets‘ Dominique Thomas) goes looking for a wife and stumbles upon beautiful, innocent Marie-Catherine (Goodbye First Love‘s Lola Créton). The two have a whirlwind romance, get married, and then Bluebeard has to go away on business. He gives Marie-Catherine the run of the castle, with one exception—there’s one door she can’t open. But, of course, he gives her the key anyway. (Chastity belt analogy, anyone?) Will she be able to resist temptation to look behind that door and see what secrets Bluebeard has hidden away?
Breillat, of course, gives us more than that. Bluebeard and Marie-Catherine do not live in a vacuum; while Marie-Catherine’s fortunes have risen mightily in the world, she makes the effort to keep ties to her family, especially her sister (Monsieur Batgnole‘s Daphné Baiwir), and Breillat sets a framing device in place regarding a pair of contemporary sisters (Marilou Lopes-Benites in her first screen role and Lady Blood‘s Lola Giovannetti), one of whom is reading the story to the other. Which sounds like a horrid piece of artifice, and if you’ve seen more than one Breillat film you know that’s a possibility—but it works here better than it does in something like Fat Girl. (I want to compare it, oddly, to Svankmajer, but I didn’t make enough notes to draw that comparison convincingly, so I’ll just leave that out there.)
Never encountered Breillat before? Encountered her and were unimpressed? Give Barbe Bleue a try; it may just change your mind. *** ½