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

Saturday, October 6

2:00 p.m.
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.

4:30 p.m.
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.

6:30 p.m.
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.

Sunday, October 7

2:00 p.m.
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.

4:00 p.m.
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.

6:30 p.m.
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.

Program Introduction

With 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 Lifetime Television.

Special thanks to Cowboy Booking, Empire Films, FPI (Paris), and Margo Films.

copyright 2002 American Museum of the Moving Image
All rights reserved