01 February 2008

Movielog, Romance

Romance, 1999
Written and Directed by Catherine Breillat
95 minutes (director's cut)

This is a very muddled movie about a very muddled subject: sex. Or love. Or something. Marie (Caroline Ducey) is in a relationship with Paul (Sagamore Stevenin), who is a male model. They love each other (or say they do) but he won't have sex with her. Not because he can't (if there's one thing to know about this movie going in, it's that it includes plenty of nudity, both of the male and the female), but because he's simply not interested. At first I thought he was simply one of the many low-sex-drive people out there in relationships with high-sex-drive people, but after seeing the whole thing, I'm not so sure. He loves the chase, is flirty with other women in bars, but when he comes home to his girlfriend, all he really wants to do is watch TV and then roll over and go to sleep.

"Take off your shirt," she asks. After some reluctance, he does. She snuggles with him, enjoying what little affection he gives her. Does she just seek skin-on-skin contact? That wonderful biochemical connection between two people that just feels good? No, because when she takes another lover, she doesn't seem much more interested in what she find there than she has with her boyfriend. Later, she will engage in bondage sex with yet another man (Francois Berleand, who played the "ex-little-boy" in The Transporter, and seeing that guy tying crotch ropes around a beautiful woman was probably the most surreal moment in the entire film for me), and she seems to like the sex okay (she comes back for more), but even there she's not getting what she wants. I think.

I think the best way to understand this film is to consider it a portrait of the incredibly confused feelings that people have about sex. Marie's voice-overs don't always match her actions, she says she seeks raw sexual abandon and yet overthinks matters to the point at which she's analyzing her emotional state even while masturbating alone in her bed, and spends most of the movie in a state of bored indifference. This would be fine, but I think writer/director Catherine Breillat is just as much in the dark about Marie's motives and actions as the audience, or at least she isn't able to properly articulate the meaning of these moments within the film itself. (I was left wanting some sort of commentary track, or at least a documentary on the DVD, but none is to be found.)

The only real recurring theme here is the sense of disconnect between mind and body, between heart and cunt. Paul seems to love his girlfriend, wants a child with her, but can't reconcile the needs of his head and heart with the desires of his dick. The bondage afficionado uses his craft on Marie, but he seems more interested in the process of tying than in the results and (ahem) benefits that such tying would provide him.

There's a lot more here -- this film seems to be designed by and for the kinds of film buffs who analyze themes and structure more than the film itself. There's a curious color coding scheme in place in costumes and set design, and several sequences (including one fantasy sequence) are beautiful and inspiring in their way, but for a movie with this much sex (much of it hardcore, the best of which is probably the aforementioned crotch rope, of which we get a nice close-up) it falls strangely flat. This isn't pornography, despite the presence of Rocco Siffredi, a real-life porn actor who's even worked with Belladonna (warning, really NSFW!), and overall the whole thing just strikes me as an overly arty kind of French-language film that's more interested in what the characters and events represent than in the characters and events themselves.

This is a good film, interesting for what it means and for the discussions that it will no-doubt allow, but it's nowhere near a great one. I wish that the writer/director had spent more time considering these characters, giving the audience a clearer through-line and a better idea of what's really at stake. Again, it's fine to have a character who's confused, but we shouldn't be sitting at home wondering if it's really the character who doesn't know what she wants, or the director.

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