Known for her explicit and confronting portrayals of women’s sexuality, provocateur, writer and filmmaker Catherine Breillat focuses wholly on female psychology.
No stranger to controversy, Breillat published her first book at age 17, an erotic novel that was banned for purchase by anyone under 18 because of its openly sexual subject matter. Since 1975, Breillat has written and directed films, often adapted from her own novels, exploring women’s (at times masochistic) relationship to desire and using sex to examine power struggles between men and women. Reprehensively dubbed the “auteur of porn”, Breillat focuses on frank sexual encounters and the complex inner lives of women rather than intricate narratives. Whether it is exploring adolescent sexuality, casting an Italian porn star or filming real intercourse, Breillat is obsessive and unflinching in depicting sexual relations. Her cinéma du corps lingers clinically on sex in real-time action complete in its messy, painful realism, and portrayed without romanticism or overly expressive emotion.
This season showcases Breillat’s key works including her first film, A Real Young Girl, her international breakthrough, Romance, and the divisive Anatomy of Hell, the last two of which both initially faced bans in Australia upon their release.
7:00PM – A REAL YOUNG GIRL
Catherine Breillat (1976) 89 mins
Unclassified 18+ by an adult
Warning: This film contains scenes of graphic chicken slaughter, viewer discretion is advised.
Breillat’s debut film, adapted from her fourth novel ‘Le Soupirail’, is a powerful depiction of female sexual fantasies and experiences. With its frank presentation of a teenage girl’s developing sexual agency, the film came under criticism and was held in censorship limbo, finally being released in theatres almost a quarter-century after it was completed. Explicit for its time, Breillat’s soft-focus aesthetic is beautifully poetic and nuanced, signalling her future approach to incendiary subject matter. With Charlotte Alexandra and Hiram Keller.
8:40PM – À MA SOEUR!
Catherine Breillat (2001) 86 mins R18+
Sibling rivalry comes to the fore when two very different sisters on a seaside holiday debate love, sex and losing their virginity. Attractive, flirtatious 15-year-old Elena (Roxanne Mesquida) draws advances from an Italian student while chubby, plain 12-year-old Anaïs (Anaïs Pingot) looks on with jealousy. An explicit and provocative look at teen sexuality and desire portrayed in all its clumsy, fumbling realism; what appears initially to be a summer coming-of-age story reveals something more fundamentally disturbing, driven home by a shocking finale. With Arsinée Khanjian.
7:00PM – ROMANCE
Catherine Breillat (1999) 84 mins R18+
Deeply divisive in its chronicling of one woman’s burgeoning sexual odyssey, Breillat’s cool, insidious curlicue of a film was responsible for a commentariat furore in Australia that ultimately paved the way for an overhaul of the R18+ classification. Seen today, Breillat’s methodical interest in the philosophical and sociological codification of sexual coupling comes to the forefront, as does her penchant for a literary form of deadpan, behavioural absurdity that can be traced back to her early years as a novelist (ever the firebrand, Breillat published her first novel at the tender age of 17).
8:35PM – BLUEBEARD
Catherine Breillat (2009) 80 mins
Unclassified 15+ Unless accompanied by an adult
Charles Perrault’s morbid fairytale is preserved as an elegant 17th-century costume drama, narrated through vividly imaginative eyes as a pair of sisters read from a storybook in their attic. The ogreish Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas) and his elfin wife, Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton), circle each other in their castle in a claustrophobically erotic display of desire and self-control. Ultimately, a tale about forbidden temptations, this is a sublime chamber of horrors given Breillat’s classically feminist spin.
7:00PM – THE LAST MISTRESS
Catherine Breillat (2007) 104 mins R18+
Breillat creates a brutally sensual period film, distinctively eviscerating romantic illusions with a decadent vision of aristocratic sexual excess. Adapted by the director from Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly’s erotic novel, it features Asia Argento as a ferocious force in the title role. A remarkably assured change of genre for Breillat, the film communicates a devastating power through its richly designed mise en scène. Shot with extreme precision by Breillat and Theo Angelopoulos’ regular cinematographer Giorgos Arvanitis.
8:55PM – ANATOMY OF HELL
Catherine Breillat (2004) 77 mins R18+
A suicidal woman (Amira Casar) hires her rescuer (played by generously endowed porn star Rocco Siffredi) to spend four nights watching her, facing the hell of the female body. Breillat’s “feminist existential porn”, an adaptation of her own novel Pornocracy, confronts misogyny and the male gaze with eyes and legs wide open. Provocative, agitational and providing humour not quite as unintentional as its detractors would have us believe, Breillat offers a philosophy of female corporeality unlike anything else in recent cinema.