Barbe Bleue

Wednesday, October20
Oechsle Hall 224

Perhaps the greatest feminist provocatrice working in cinema today, Catherine Breillat slyly subverts Charles Perrault’s gruesome 1697 fairy tale about a monstrous aristocrat who marries and murders a series of wives. By inserting semiautobiographical scenes of two sisters in the 1950s who are fascinated with this grisly narrative, Breillat creates a clever framing device to explicate a centuries-old story—and tease out its relevance today. Up in the attic, younger, precocious Catherine takes great delight in scaring her older sister, Marie-Anne, by reading Bluebeard aloud—itself a story of two sisters. In Breillat’s retelling of Perrault’s text, teenage siblings Marie-Catherine and Anne descend into poverty after their father dies; Marie-Catherine decides to marry the terrifying Bluebeard as a way out of destitution. The young bride and the hairy, mountainous nobleman develop a tender relationship—until Bluebeard’s wrath is incurred after Marie-Catherine deliberately disobeys him. As the film toggles between the 17th century and the 20th, Breillat makes several piercing observations about sibling rivalry, sexual curiosity, notions of purity and innocence, and the power of language and imagination.
Review: “Sexual power relations are as key here as they were in Breillat’s scandalous ‘Romance’ and ‘Anatomy of Hell’ but this time she prefers an implicit approach in which the lovely frail young bride… seems in total command of her huge world-weary, wife-slaughtering husband and defiant of the fate of her predecessors.” –Nick James, The Observer