R | 1h 24min | Drama | 14 April 1999 (France)
Although deeply in love with her boyfriend – and indeed sleeping in the same bed with him – a schoolteacher cannot handle the almost complete lack of intimacy he will allow. Increasingly frustrated, she gradually finds her sexual appetites leading her into ever more risky situations, including a developing one with the headmaster.
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)
Rated R for language and strong sexual content including dialogue
Before I comment on this film two introductory remarks are necessary. (1) I recommend anyone who is aware of the way in which it was panned by the critics (“puerile self conscious euro-trash”, etc) to forget these reviews. I believe it is an unusually rewarding work to see. (2) The title is very misleading, just reading it one cannot be aware of the irony with which it must have been chosen, and anyone expecting to see the film equivalent of a Harlequin novel needs to be warned in advance.
The story is of a young women who loves her very unresponsive husband, but finds the dissatisfaction she feels from her rare and unfulfilling copulation with him drives her into a series of increasingly destructive extra-marital relationships. These are very graphically portrayed, although she struggles to keep her marriage intact. To me this is perhaps the most unsatisfying aspect of the film – today I would have expected that such a marriage would have broken up very quickly and the woman involved would have felt free to look for a more fulfilling relationship. However many films and novels are based on the theme of women who accept either indifference or a great deal of both physical and mental abuse from partners that they love, and I must accept that this is an important theme for a film.
Although the story is far from new, it is handled here with unusual sensitivity and understanding. Some of the sex scenes would normally only be seen in a hardcore porn film and this appears to be what has upset most of the critics, but I cannot go along with this as a valid criticism. Why should films exploiting torture, death and destruction be accepted as mainstream, whilst those dealing with the personal relationships so vital to living a fulfilling life become subject to censorship? However it is important to warn anyone considering viewing this film that although it contains a great deal of graphic sexual activity it is never erotic.These scenes (even those between the young woman and her husband with whom she is certainly in love) uniformly show cold mechanical and meaningless relationships which are ultimately self destructive. They concentrate on the emotions of the woman concerned and, since she is largely passive in most of them, and can often only convey the story through her facial expressions, such scenes require both a very fine actress and a very sensitive director in order to succeed. In my opinion this film provides both. It could probably only have been directed by a woman, and one can sense the determination of both the director and the lead actress to draw viewers of both sex into the story so that they are not merely voyeurs, but are forced to consider its relevance both to their own lives and to those of their friends.
Ultimately the ending of a film of this type can make or mar it. Both a happy and a totally tragic ending for what is intended to be a look at the lives of quiet desperation lived by many women would be inappropriate. Instead the director has taken our understanding of her main character further forward by showing us that for many such women their ultimate satisfaction comes from their children rather than from their life partner.
It is a mark of a successful film when graphic images from it keep coming back to mind long afterwards, particularly when these images force one to consider whether there are lessons in it applicable to ones own life. I believe this would be the experience of most of those who see this film Although I would NOT recommended it as either a skin flick or an erotic film for a couple to watch together in the bedroom, I have no hesitation in recommending it strongly to all those who adequately appreciate what they can expect from it.
Director: Catherine Breillat
Writer: Catherine Breillat (scenario and dialogue)
Stars: Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stévenin, François Berléand
Language: French | English
Release Date: 14 April 1999 (France)
Also Known As: Romance
Format : AVI
Format/Info : Audio Video Interleave
File size : 699 MiB
Duration : 1 h 38 min
Overall bit rate : 992 kb/s