Monday, March 22, 2010

Breillat's BLUEBEARD: the expected -- and then some


On the face of it, there is little question why famous French moviemaker Catherine Breillat (shown below) would take her stab at adapting Bluebeard to the screen. This strange and ugly but insistently encroach-
ing story is one of several even more famous faux-folk-tale/fairy tales by 17th Century Frenchman Charles Perrault, whose oeuvre includes Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Poots and Donkeyskin (which another French filmmaker, Jacques Demy, turned into a fetching little film a few decades back).

As unlike as Breillat is to Demy, so is Bluebeard to most other fairy tales -- a genre which M. Perrault is given credit for inventing -- as it encompasses serial killing and violence to women while flirting with pederasty (though young girls did marry earlier back then).  Yet it's a near-perfect match for Ms Breillat, dealing as it does with the perils of sisterhood (see her Fat Girl aka À ma soeur) and the power struggle between men and women.

Because the story's themes are innately feminist without requiring any further push, this leaves the movie open to simply be "told," which the movie-maker handles with quiet relish and enough style to carry us along.  Telling the actual tale in its own time frame (with sets and costumes --above -- that seem both appropriate and gorgeous), she offers a clever counterpart in a second pair of sisters (below) who appear to be living in the mid-20th Century, and who retire to the attic in order to read and scare each other with the Bluebeard tale.  Here, as in the actual story, it's the younger of the two sisters who is more open, courageous, feisty and funny, so the counterpoint of time frames and mores make for additional fun and thought.  (At one point, so wrapped up in the tale does the little sister grow, that she becomes the character and we follow her, for a time, into forbidden territory.)


BLUEBEARD is a nice film to look at, too, and although all the per-
formers are new to me, each does a fine job.  In the title role, Dominique Thomas even looks quite like the character in the 19th cen-
tury illustration (shown at left) by Gustave Doré.    Breillat is also able to get her licks in regarding religion (the sisters are at convent school when they hear some bad news, given them with barely concealed disdain and deliberate pain by the nun-in-charge), the economics of survival for women (then and now) and perhaps the most important women's lesson of all (used consistently by everyone from Scheherazade to Lucille Ball):
When in trouble, stall.

Bluebeard, just the right length at a mere 80 minutes, opens its exclusive premier U.S. engagement in New York City via Strand Releasing on Friday, March 26, at the IFC Center. Further playdates scheduled so far appear below.

4/30/10: Burton Theatre, Detroit, MI

4/30/10: Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH 44106

6/4/10:  Wexner Center for the Art, Columbus, OH

6/16/10:  George Eastman House, Rochester, NY

2 comments:

GHJ - said...

Jim - Great write up! I love Briellat and cannot wait to see this. You wouldn't happen to have a screener you could send my way out of the kindness of your heart? God knows this sucker will never open out here.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Glenn. Wish I did have a screener to send. But maybe the movie will come your way eventually. Strand tells me that more playdates may be in the offing.... depending, I suppose, on how well the movie does box-office-wise.