Tag: catherine breillat

The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

When Anastasia is born, a witch (Odile Mallet) puts a curse on her, condemning the child to die at the age of sixteen. Three fairies are unable to dispel the hex but are capable of altering it. Instead of her life being taken away, Anastasia will fall into a deep sleep at age six (Carla Besnaïnou), wake up a hundred years later, and will look like a sixteen-year-old (Julia Artamonov). Meanwhile, as the child is in a coma, her mind enters a world that appears to resemble reality at first glance but is actually ruled by fantastic creatures like an evil Snow Queen, aristocratic dwarfs, and a giant covered in boils.

It takes a bit of time to get into the groove of the way “La belle endormie,” directed by Catherine Breillat, is told perhaps because many of the characters’ actions are performed without explanation. For instance, we aren’t informed why the witch decides to put a spell on an innocent child other than a fairytale-based assumption that old women in black cloaks are born bad and therefore must act bad. After the witch casts her magic, we never hear from her again. Though its template is that of a fairytale, this is far from a conventional story where the heroes or heroines must face the lead villain before living happily ever after.

In its own strange way, it works. One of its quietest but most important scenes is the six-year-old Anastasia reading a dictionary as her hobby. She claims that it takes her on all sorts of adventures because each vocabulary word feels like an entire story. This scene stood out to me because I used to read the dictionary as a kid (nerd alert!) and I understood what she meant by being so immersed or entertained by a word, subconsciously her imagination is pushed to expand in countless directions.

In my opinion, when most of us read a definition of a word in a dictionary, we have a superficial understanding of what is communicated but we are often blind to its underlying meanings (and multiple meanings) and assumptions. This is because we have a proclivity to focus on the words on the page. Unless we really think about it, we tend to overlook the complexity of a foreign word. The interactions between the characters in the film is similar to this in that they talk to each other about their goals but there isn’t much content in their exchanges. They talk as quickly as they move on. It wouldn’t be unfair for someone to criticize the dialogue for being wooden or hollow.

The part I enjoyed significantly less is when Anastasia wakes up as a teenager. The technique of superficiality feels inappropriate given the fact that Anastasia meets Johan (David Chausse), someone who might be interested in her sexually. Because it chooses not to delve deeply into their psychologies, there is a detachment between us and the subjects. It works in the first half because we do not want to see harm befall a child during her adventures. In the last act, however, it doesn’t work. Instead, it feels like watching a bad play where the actors act rather well but there’s no substance behind their torment.

“The Sleeping Beauty” blends fantasy and reality seamlessly so it is engaging as a visual experience. It is also unpredictable because the screenplay is not at all concerned about tying up loose ends. So loyal to its vision, I wondered at times who its target audience might be. It certainly isn’t for family and children. But perhaps it is for people wishing to flood their taste buds with an experimental flavor.

Sex is Comedy

Sex is Comedy (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★

Because the lead actors (Grégoire Colin, Roxane Mesquida) of the film cannot stand to be around one another for long, the director, Jeanne (Anne Parillaud), finds it a great struggle to shoot them. It does not help that the most important scene in the picture involves simulated sex; chemistry is required. The unnamed performers must be sensual, vulnerable and, most importantly, convincing. When the two share a passionate kiss, the feelings they invoke reflects that of a person practicing on a CPR dummy—detached, awkward, and cold.

I found “Sex is Comedy,” written and directed by Catherine Breillat, to be very funny even though many people, I imagine, may not necessarily find the humor in it. Although the plot is mostly about working with difficult actors, it also about Jeanne: how she is as a director when the camera is nearby, whether it is on or off, what she thinks is at stake if the project did not turn out as successfully as she had anticipated, her relationship with the cast and crew, and her passion for the job. The material gives us a chance to evaluate her as a director with her back against the wall.

In some ways, it is like hanging out on set. There is no music on the background to guide us what to feel or think. We hear footsteps and equipment being lugged around, we see people chatting on the side, and we feel the exhaustion emanating from just about everyone after a long day. Movies do not make themselves and I enjoyed that the material has enough insight to acknowledge the effort put into creating art.

The movie functions as an anatomy of a scene. The latter half mostly involves a bed, two cardboard walls, a pair of nervous actors, and the crew watching their every move. It is most entertaining when a take does not work because Jeanne is very hands-on. She is not afraid to jump on the bed, wrap her limbs around the leads, explain why certain body angles work better than others, and really push them to work. Actors get paid handsomely to bare not just their bodies when necessary but also—and more often—their souls, or at the very least their characters’ souls.

Viewers who enjoy honing in on faces and expressions, like myself, will find this picture a pleasure to sit through. For instance, a good amount of time is on the male lead’s reluctance, perhaps embarrassment as well, to wear a prosthetic penis during the all-important sex scene. It is decided without the actor’s consent that he will wear one because everybody knows he cannot stand his co-star. To the crew, it is an act of helping him out so that he has one less thing to worry about. It is not necessary that he be informed of their decision—after all, it is their job to save time and money—but it would have been nice so he feels included in the process. On the other hand, his response to the discovery is, in my eyes, unprofessional and childish. He constantly needs to be cajoled by the director to continue to do what he should be motivated to do in the first place.

This and similar scenes are worth thinking about because every character on screen acts like a real person. Sometimes people act difficult on purpose. Other times, they may not even be aware of it. A common thread is that there is always a reason. Since there is a marriage of two major elements, the stresses of the job and the clashing personalities, “Sex is Comedy” is an effective look at show business. Part of the challenge is to find the humor underneath the increasingly miserable characters.

Anatomy of Hell

Anatomy of Hell (2004)
★★ / ★★★★

A woman (Amira Casar) is discovered by a man (Rocco Siffredi) cutting her wrists in the restroom of a gay bar. After he takes her to a clinic to get her self-inflicted wounds taken care of, she expresses her opinion that men hold a great fear and hatred of female sexuality. She wishes to explore this matter. She tells the stranger that she is willing to pay him to watch her during her most private moments. There is no need to touch her; he only has to observe. If he likes what he sees, he is welcome to join her in bed.

Based on the novel and screenplay by Catherine Breillat, “Anatomie de l’enfer” is not an easy film to digest given some of its undercurrents, like hatred of men and male homosexuals, as well as sexual images that really push the boundary between art and pornography so it is a bit of a surprise to me that I was able to stick with it.

Perhaps it is because, to me, its thesis is clear: the woman of interest considers gay males as being a part of an elite brotherhood that detests women, thereby only engaging with other males sexually—what they consider to be their equal—and so she takes the man through a sort-of experiment where she can “prove” that a woman’s sexuality is so powerful, it can turn male fear or resentment, homosexual or heterosexual, toward women into something positive.

The picture is anything but conventional. The two characters do not even have names. They are as detached from one another as we are to them. Despite this, there are plenty of contrasting elements worth looking into. For instance, although penis, vagina, breasts, and anus are shown generously on screen, I did not find them erotic. These body parts are often accompanied by images that can be considered disgusting or disturbing. The way a gardening tool is used quickly comes to mind. Even more shocking is the woman’s reaction to it. Another example involves the disparity between the seemingly rich ideas inside the woman’s mind and the sparseness of her cottage house. It can be interpreted that although her thoughts are aplenty, they hold very little meaning.

At times the material attempts to reach at anything in the dark. About halfway through, it is mentioned that an ocean is both a male and female image but its elucidation is more confusing than thought-provoking. When this sort of thing happens, which occurs more than half a dozen times, it feels like the screenplay is trying too hard to come off as meaningful. There is a self-consciousness in the bold script.

Most importantly, I did not buy into the man’s newfound feelings toward the woman. What he considers to be a profound realization in terms of his relationship with women (or just the woman he spent bizarre four nights with), I interpreted as trauma. I was neither moved intellectually or emotionally nor did I feel like it was a worthwhile experience as art or pornography. Although it is propelled by extreme elements on outside, “Anatomy of Hell” seems to just coast among them.