Starring: Caroline Ducy, Rocco Siffredi, Francois Berleand
Director: Catherine Breillat
Catherine Breillat belongs to an honourable French tradition of intellectual erotica. While Romance (1999) contains explicit scenes that shocked the British censors, there’s no doubting its seriousness or artistic credentials. Slow, studied, almost deathly quiet at times, it accords to the classic models of French cinema. In fact, take out the erections, and Romance could easily pass for an Eric Rohmer film.
It’s a character study of Marie (Caroline Ducy), a primary school teacher who has boyfriend problems. The sensitively handsome Paul (Sagamore-Stevenin) doesn’t seem at all interested in sex, and his failure to put out for her gnaws at her self-confidence, so much so that she seeks reassurance in the brawny grip of he-man Paolo (played by well-endowed porn star Rocco Siffredi). At the same time, her anxiety seems to morph into a desire for self-degradation – why else would she have a fling with her BDSM-obsessed headmaster (Francois Berleand), who soon has her bound and gagged with her underpants around her ankles?
Long, philosophical musings punctuate these encounters and go on during them as well, to the extent that as the film progresses you get the impression that Marie’s real passion is talking about sex, not doing it (these days she’d probably be contentedly writing a TMI blog in spare moments between marking her pupils’ homework). The pale, kabuki-faced Caroline Ducy seems to know this girl inside out, peeling fresh layers off her character in every scene, but the intensity of her narcissism makes for a very lonely film. The only person who seems to enjoy himself is the kinky head, rummaging among his ropes and handcuffs. Otherwise, a mood of joylessness pertains, and Breillat seems to take little pleasure in photographing the actors’ bodies. Only in the long nude scene between Marie and Paolo does the film thaw out to a degree and achieve a certain sensuous allure. Nonetheless, you can’t help but admire the commitment of the director and her leading lady to delving deep into Marie’s inner life and her twisted libido. A difficult watch at times, but it’s very good to see this thoughtful film available on DVD once more.