Director: Catherine Breillat
Screenplay: Catherine Breillat
Starring: Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stevenin, Rocco Siffredi, Francois Berleand
Producer: Jean-Francois Leptit
Running Time: 84 min
I haven’t read 50 Shades (“housewives favourite” acclaim put me right off) or watched Nymphomaniac (promotional “money shots” of its stars made me retch) nor do I watch actual porn. It was with some trepidation therefore that I approached Romance; a film from 1999 that apparently was a giant shocker to the censors due to its alleged blurring of the lines between traditional film and porn.
Marie (Caroline Ducey) is a teacher in a relationship with Paul (Sagamore Stevenin) a man who doesn’t want to have sex with her; increasingly frustrated she embarks on a sexy adventure. Catherine Breillat who wrote and directed this French tale of ennui and lingerie has been described as a “porno auteuriste”.
Marie is our protagonist and our narrator as we are lead through the film by her actions and her internal monologue. The film is driven by her needs and her agency drives the film; her desires are not based on wanting a husband but on wanting sex because she isn’t getting it at home. She cruises the streets of Paris at night in her boyfriend’s sports car looking for an intimacy sans kissing or love or any future.
I must admit that when, 10 minutes in, a penis did appear I choked on my tea but I soon got over it and to be honest in the context of a sexless relationship it was a somewhat sad and pathetic sight.
Marie’s first hook up is Paolo (played by real life porn actor Rocco Siffredi); and to be honest his acting chops were not as impressive as his frankly frightening erection; presumably they needed someone who could “perform” with the camera looking on. She then moves on to a more BDSM type relationship with her charming and deluded headmaster Robert (Francois Berleand).
It’s hard to understand why Marie wants to be with her dull boorish boyfriend in the first place, I completely failed to see what was so great about him and in the end it seems Marie agrees. Their bedroom looks like a hospital room with its white clinical lines and she spends most of the time dressed in virginal white.
It is a beautifully shot film despite some of the images being pretty terrifying – I am glad I didn’t have to see some of the scenes on the big screen. The use of sound and the composition of the film remind me a great deal of David Lynch and indeed there are scenes which could fit very well in either Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks. It is quite a sinister film in many respects and the ending is also a bizarre Lynchian type of finale.
I can see why the film might have been shocking at the time but the graphic sex is actually secondary to the focus; the film is an existential crisis of the sort that only the Europeans can make, a philosophical film that we don’t tend to make so much in the UK or the US and certainly not normally with a female protagonist.
Romance is interesting, twisted, sort of funny with some great visuals and the leads are arresting. If only they could have dumped Marie’s internal monologue I would have found her much more compelling without it, with it she comes across as annoying and petulant. She is a bit crazed and I like that, who knows what she might do?
Don’t watch it with your parents but for film buffs this is a must see.
Romance is released in the UK on DVD on 10th November from Second Sight.