Catherine Breillat on 'Bluebeard'

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France's foremost provocatrice returns with a short, sharp fairytale about desire and manipulation

French erotic novelist-turned-director Catherine Breillat first made a splash in the UK with ‘Romance’, her 1999 movie about a voyage of sexual discovery. Since then, the 62 year old has delivered a stream of challenging works such as ‘A Ma Soeur!’ (2001) and ‘Anatomy of Hell’ (2004). Her new film, 'Bluebeard', features no sex but remains very much in keeping with her style.

When did you first encounter the story of Bluebeard?

‘At the age of the little girl in the film – five-and-a-half. She reads it in its integral version which is only about ten pages. The film is the projection of all her fantasies, and for the first time – via the 26 letters of the alphabet – it’s all there, and that’s what fascinates me about books. It’s like music with seven notes. You transport yourself into a world of thought, fantasy and image. In England, little boys were fascinated by Bluebeard and the fear he brings. I think it’s magnificent and it has influenced all my films. It’s a fairy tale that I loved and re-read constantly.’

When you’re adapting a book for the screen, do you feel a responsibility to bring the story to the screen as it is?
‘No, you’re always irresponsible as a director. I always say that, so when there are these moral investigations of my films and what they’re supposedly doing to people, I respond, “I am a filmmaker, not a social worker!” ’

Is this a film for children?
‘No. It was shown very, very late on French television and the critics said that it was a movie more for adults. One critic in France said that, as always, I had told a horrible and disgusting story. But I didn’t invent the story! He probably thinks that “Romeo and Juliet” is a disgusting story! It’s so strange.’

Within the film, there are two stories about sisters and they both concern the younger sister trying to rise above her status.
‘And not only that, but trying to claim supremacy over the older sister.’

Are you a younger sister? If so, did you engage in these power plays?
‘Of course! The tale scared me just as much as my sister, but for me it was a delicious fear. She was always the one crying just 30 seconds before me. And I was very proud of that – I was the torturer, the executioner, as I’m the younger child scaring the older one. I would always hold my own tears just until she had gone.’

You tackled rivalry between sisters in ‘A Ma Soeur!’. Do you have any interest in making a film about the rivalry between a brother and a sister?
‘I don’t really know that relationship. For me, it would obviously be incestuous. In a way, Bluebeard is the big brother, the father who’s in love and respectful of the little virgin, and they visibly love each other. So you could transpose the relationship of the younger sister and the older brother to this film.’

The film has a contemporary feel, especially the idea of a family trying to escape hardship.
‘Only in the idea of a poor young girl wanting to be a princess. At the same time, the mother and older sister reject the situation, but the younger daughter is attracted by this man who kills women. She’s got the loneliness of adolescence and he has the loneliness of a monster, so it’s two unloved people who meet and, it says in the original, “After some time, she doesn’t find him quite so horrible.” She marries him no longer through interest, but through attraction.’

Read our review of ‘Bluebeard'

Author: Interview: David Jenkins



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