A Catherine Breillat Retrospective
by Dan Sallitt
Reproduced from the web site of the American Museum of the Moving Image.
The Lifetime Series:
A Catherine Breillat Retrospective
October 6 + 7, 2001
A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH CATHERINE BREILLAT
1999, 88 mins. With Caroline Ducey. Breillat received worldwide
attention with this sexually explicit fable of a young woman whose
withholding lover drives her into infidelity and self-discovery.
This film flirts with the style and substance of pornography and
shows how words and images can obscure as much as they reveal.
Free with Museum admission.
A REAL YOUNG GIRL
1976, 92 mins. Breillat's first film, from her novel Le Souperail,
was shelved thanks to France's "X Law" and not released until 2000.
A teenaged girl on summer vacation in rural France plunges into
a contemplative world of sexual self-exploration.
1979, 94 mins. With Joe Dallesandro. A startling experiment in shifting
moods, Tapage depicts a film director's roller-coaster affair that
careens out of her control. This major film is the fullest expression
of the dialectic between gaiety and gravity in Breillat's work.
1987, 88 mins. With Jean-Pierre Leaud. Breillat's first film to
receive U.S. distribution is an exciting pas de deux between a headstrong
fourteen-year-old and the aging Romeo whom she fascinates.
DIRTY LIKE AN ANGEL
1991, 105 mins. "I want to tell a story about people who don't love
each other. They desire each other, and that desire is born of betrayal,
shame, and remorse." Breillat enters the policier genre with this
story of the affair between a 50-year-old detective and the young
wife of his partner.
1996, 113 mins. This unnerving, brilliant work, based on a real-life
crime of passion, depicts the troubled romance between a twice-married
surgeon and a younger man. Preceded by AUX NICOIS QUI MAL Y PENSENT
(1995, 22 mins). This short was made for the anthology film A PROPOS
DE NICE, LA SUITE.
the recent U.S. releases of her sixth feature, Romance, and her
1976 debut A Real Young Girl, Catherine Breillat earned notoriety
as a controversial filmmaker who tests the boundary between art
films and pornography. Between these bookends lie a series of extraordinary
films, virtually unknown in this country, that establish Breillat's
place, along with Maurice Pialat and Jean Eustache, as one of the
greatest post-New Wave French directors.
Her films are not comfortable
for audiences seeking clean lines of identification. Breillat loves
and admires her sexual combatants, but also shows their cruelty,
their fraudulence, and their animosity toward the opposite sex.
This freedom of characterization combines with Breillat's observational
powers to create a remarkable sense of realism: No truth is censored
to preserve a character's dignity or stature.
Men and women in Breillat's films
are tender enemies, equally powerful, instinctively wary of one
another. Their sex is full of hesitations, frustrations, longeurs;
Breillat likes to use jump cuts to increase the sense of ennui rather
than to remove the dull bits. Though she spares her characters nothing,
Breillat the director inhabits a separate metaphysical plane, where
she finds a kind of joy in a war fought well; at unexpected moments,
her charcters join her on that plane and the tone of her films shifts
from despair into exuberance.
This retrospective coincides
with the release of Breillat's eagerly awaited Fat Girl, which is
premiering at the New York Film Festival.
This series is made possible in part by a generous gift from
Special thanks to Cowboy Booking, Empire Films, FPI (Paris), and
copyright 2002 American Museum of the Moving Image
All rights reserved