Charles Perrault’s dark and misogynistic tale about a nobleman with a penchant for uxoricide (murder of a wife) seems like perfect literary fodder for a director as intrigued by the dynamics of sexuality and gender as Catherine Breillat. Related through two time frames, that of the present and 17th century France, the director recasts this piece of folklore as the troubling reflection of a young girl’s mind and, in the process of doing so, explores the contradictions inherent in both romantic and feminist impulses.
As she did with her previous film The Last Mistress Breillat takes a definitively feminist approach to re-telling this infamous story. Unlike that film, however, Bluebeard is somewhat visually sparse; shot on digital video, there is an immediacy or simplicity to these images that collapses the boundaries between the past and the present, the real and the imaginary, but offers the viewer little to revel in as a result. Despite this, a number of visual references to painting are used within the narrative (most noticeably to Caravaggio).
Given the horrific aspects of the source material and Breillat’s intrepid attitude towards filming ‘real’ sex, some viewers may be surprised over the lack of explicit violence and sexuality. This is not to say that these characteristic themes of the director’s are not present, they are merely sublimated within the extremities of a young imagination here.
The young cast of unknown actors are uniformly excellent; in particular Lola Creton, who plays Bluebeard’s young wife, manages to embody a combination of awakening sensuality and youthful naivety in a manner that would be hard to imagine a Hollywood ‘starlet’ pulling off. Similarly, Dominique Thomas as the eponymous ogre imbues the role with humanity and pathos.
While this is certainly a minor piece within the director’s oeuvre and not as complex as some of her previous work (such as Romance and A ma soeur) it is well worth viewing if only as a highly idiosyncratic take on the fairytale or costume drama genres.
Cameo, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 16 Jul.