Many writers are convinced that Romance is Catherine
Breillat's feminism-inspired statement about female sexuality and
its power. That by choosing to engage in sexual acts that
are usually seen as degrading, the film central character, Marie,
somehow liberates herself from patriarchal sex, even though she
continually asserts her need for her boyfriend to
"f**k" her. I don't see it.
"overstates her case
I've put "f**k" in quotes because to me one of the
underlying disappointments in this film is Marie's narration,
written like a diary, that is, to herself, not us. In this diary
and also in the film's actual dialogue, Marie uses the crudest
words to describe genitals and intercourse. It's not the use of
the words that disappoint me (I use them myself sometimes) but
the fact that by reducing everything sexual to the mechanical,
Breillat overstates her case rather seriously. I realise her
title is ironic; I realise she is questioning the illusion of
romance and searching for a feminist, deeply thought statement.
But she has misjudged here; it is not "f***ing" that
Marie is talking about. It is not Paul's "cock" she
wants. Those words are out of context in her own emotional
language and turn the film into a posture.
This is one reason why in my review I've singled out the lack
of context as being a serious flaw in the film. Marie's everyday
life as a teacher (with surprisingly expensive wardrobe, but
we're in France, after all) is a shallow background; Paul's
clinically modern flat is an equally shallow background for him.
If they are both meant to be mere symbols, as some commentators
have thought possible, they don't symbolise much to me. This is
especially critical since it is Paul's refusal to
"f**k" Marie some weeks into their relationship which
triggers Marie's so called journey. In other words, Breillat does
not differentiate between "f***ing" and the sort of
love making Marie is longing for. She writes lines for Marie like
"It is said that a man honours a woman when he f***s
her…Paul dishonours me."
If we had some inkling why she chooses to stay with this
pompous, stone hearted and arrogant idiot we may start to
understand Breillat's direction.
I am not the only one a bit confused by the film. Writing in
'nitrate', Cynthia Fuchs (I can't help her name) says, among
other things: "It might be that the movie is arguing that
there is no way to imagine female desire (read: heterosexual
female desire, as there's not even a hint that Marie could
explore lesbianism as one of her self-exploratory avenues)
outside of "patriarchy." And this might be a tragic and
Then again, it's possible that the film is one long joke on
exactly that conclusion, an anti-Something About Mary, if you
will. That is, the power of this woman comes not in her
easily-consumed beauty, her conformity to some mass-marketed
ideal. Her potency comes instead in another stereotype and
idealization, which has to do with her capacity to get pregnant.
Suddenly she seems really scary. This gesture toward such a broad
and multiple cultural fear is potentially deep but also difficult
to read. The film's finale is alarming because of its ambiguity:
is Marie, in her "achievement," a monster or a Madonna?
This could be the death of romance or its rebirth. Either
interpretation seems harrowing."
The point is, for a film which is, as Breillat puts it,
"visually radical" in that it films sexual acts without
either the illusion of love (romance) present, or without any
attempt to portray sex as erotic, the director's intent must be
much clearer if it is to avoid being labelled pretensious and
self indulgent. (Or self-important porn made by a woman.)
Louise Keller makes a valid point in her review that this film
is one to see so we can talk about it; Breillat shows us how
confusing human sexuality can be - even though it is not how she
intended. Our understanding of the female sexual condition is not
much enlarged or enhanced by it, nor does it make an effective
argument for a cinema that depicts "f***ing" as a
serious new form. But it does raise the issue of censorship, of
sexually liberal filmmaking and perhaps adds to the discussion
about sexual relationships. It also has a witty bondage scene
that informs and entertains, so it's not all earnest and grim.
That, and the brothel scene where Marie imagines women
displayed in two halves, for different emotional and physical
functions (nurturing above the waist v raw sex below) are the
best things in the film, and both say something we can mull over.
See you at the expresso machine.
The R classification advisory note on this
film is 'High level sex scenes' which seems rather tame when
compared to other films with high level sex scenes, and as a
reference to scenes of fallacio and cunnilingus, masturbation,
intercourse (various positions) and bondage, all on camera. This
is worth mentioning in the wake of the fuss about the OFLC
initially refusing to classify the film at all, which would have
effectively prevented it from commercial release.
The guidelines for the OFCL (Office of Film
and Literature Classification - not 'Censorship Board') should be
amended to take away the option of refusing classification. But
the whole point of having classification as a means of advising
consumers of what they may expect by way of potentially offending
or confronting material is somewhat dented if the advisory note
is meaningless. High level sex scenes can be applied to any
number of films with an M rating, never mind R. 'Explicit and
actual sexual acts' may have been a more useful and accurate
That way, there is less chance of certain
consumers wondering into a film such as this and then complaining
about what they see. Using complaints as a political tool it is
not too hard to imagine certain folk going to see Romance just so
they can complain that its content offended them, putting false
pressure on the process.
Censorship, No; proper advisory warnings,
Andrew L. Urban