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  Bluebeard Even murderous misogynists have a sensitive sideBuy this film here.
Year: 2009
Director: Catherine Breillat
Stars: Dominique Thomas, Lola Créton, Daphné Baiwir, Marilou Lopes-Benites, Lola Giovannetti, Farida Khelfa, Isabelle Lapouge, Suzanne Foulquier, Laure Lapeyre, Luc Bailly, Adrien Ledoux
Genre: Drama, Romance, Weirdo, Fantasy
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Two little girls playing in an attic, prim Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti) and her precocious kid sister Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites) recount the classic fairytale of Bluebeard. In the story, two similarly-named teenage siblings, rebellious Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton) and her demure, older sister Anne (Daphné Baiwir) are cruelly expelled from a convent shortly after discovering their father has died. Returning home they face mounting debts and a forced to sell almost all their possessions. Anne longs to marry into wealth but when a proposal arrives from fearsome local lord, Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas), who is rumoured to have killed his many previous wives, she is repulsed. Instead, Marie-Catherine attracts Bluebeard’s eye and appears genuinely smitten with the sad, lonely, older man. They marry and an unlikely, though chaste romance ensues. One day Bluebeard leaves his castle on business, entrusting the keys to his chambers to Marie-Catherine, on the promise she will not enter his forbidden room. Inevitably, curiosity gets the better of her...

Contemplating the sexual allure of danger, violence and death, Charles Perrault’s dark fairytale has been a cinematic staple going all the way back to Georges Méliès and his silent short Barbe Bleue (1902). Over the years the story has resurfaced in either overt adaptations like Edgar G. Ulmer’s cult favourite Bluebeard (1944) and the star-studded disaster that was Edward Dmytryk’s Bluebeard (1972) or thinly veiled reinterpretations such as Fritz Lang’s Secret Beyond the Door (1948). Aside from Méliès, some other notable French filmmakers tackled the tale including historical swashbuckler specialist Christian-Jacque in 1951 and Nouvelle Vague auteur Claude Chabrol with Landru (1963).

Here, the divisive Catherine Breillat delivers her own, typically idiosyncratic, take on the familiar story, cross-cutting between two narratives. On the one hand, a somewhat gloomy, austere yet emotionally resonant adaptation of the fairytale itself, intercut with a semi-autobiographical framing story that treads into rather troubling waters given the climactic fate of one sibling. Although somewhat awkwardly integrated into the main story, given Breillat cross-cuts between both narratives for some time before establishing that Catherine and Marie-Anne are actually reading the Bluebeard story, the framing device is not without its charms. As the two girls continue to debate the messages inherent in Perrault’s text, much amusement arises from little Catherine’s precocious musings including a semi-improvised sequence where she insists “homosexuality” is the correct term for when a man and woman are in love!

Despite Breillat’s past output of confrontational, some would say scandal-mongering, art-porn fare including Romance (1999) and À Ma Soeur! (2001), she surprisingly downplays the sexual undertones and reinterprets the story as a tragic romance. As portrayed by Dominique Thomas, Bluebeard is a complex character, reflecting the ambiguities inherent in his historical inspiration: the mass murderer Gilles De Rais, who was conversely a close friend of Joan of Arc. He is a self-confessed monster yet equally melancholy, wounded, world-weary and sincere. His attitude towards Catherine is largely paternal and kindly while the fourteen year old heroine exerts some control over their relationship, denying him sex and politely demanding her own room until she comes of age. However, Breillat’s reading remains psychologically shallow with no attempt to rationalise the title character’s homicidal impulses. The film is riddled with inconsistencies and the underlining tension between Marie-Catherine and her sister Anne goes unresolved, a misstep given the latter’s role in instigating the climax. And yet aspects of the film do engage and Breillat draws some exceptional performances particularly from her quartet of young leads.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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