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Catherine Breillat (1948 - )

Lifespan: 1948 -

Related: French cinema - director - French erotica

Titles: Romance X (1999) - Anatomy of Hell (2004)

Catherine Breillat [1]

"I detest Truffaut," she says uncompromisingly." "All that cinema of self-regard." --Catherine Breillat, 2003

Breillat's work belongs to a genre of films, directed by women, in which female protagonists peel back the seductive myths of romantic love in an attempt to discover the meaning of sexuality for themselves -- no matter how delightful or degrading their experiences. --Barbara Creed, 2000

Breillat was aptly baptised into cinema as an actress in 1972 with her supporting role in Bernardo Bertolucci's libido-charged Last Tango in Paris, and over the course of her remarkably audacious 25 year career, she has thoroughly plumbed the depths of female sexuality, consistently returning to a handful of themes such as the traumatic loss of virginity (A Real Young Girl, Fat Girl, 36 Fillette), cross-generational couplings (Brief Crossing, Perfect Love), female masochism (Romance X) and female sexuality as a potent force that is repressed and made obscene by its patriarchal bedmate. In her latest film, Anatomy of Hell (Anatomie de l'enfer), Breillat probes deeper into the uncharted possibilities of representing sex and sexuality, masterfully crafting a literary, painterly and ultimately terrifying tableaux vivant of the female body. --Kevin Murphy, 2004 [1]

The central preoccupation of Catherine Breillat's work is the sexuality of women. That is, in and of itself, no major accomplishment. How many male directors, by contrast, are not in some way preoccupied with women? Of course, the preoccupation with female sexuality in most forms of cinematic production is marked by exhibitionism rather than introspection; it reassures where it could tear apart. Even in a film like Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale (2002), any effort to revise the image of the figure of the femme fatale along feminist lines is undercut by extensive displays of the female body. In this case, the femme fatale may no longer be the cause of the noir hero's downfall, but she is still the source of visual pleasure. Although, Breillat's films also tread a very fine line between exhibitionism and introspection—she admits that they are, after all, always about sex—they do so under the guidance of a fundamental difference in conception. In Breillat's own words: “I take sexuality as a subject, not as an object.” --Brian Price, 2002 [1]


Catherine Breillat is filmmaker and director based in Paris, who is not only known for her documentary filmwork focusing on sexuality, gender trouble and sibling rivalry, but also for her best selling novels.

Catherine Breillat is a professor of auteur cinema at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland where she conducts a summer workshop.

Catherine Breillat is somewhat controversial for her explicit depiction of sexuality. In 1999 she casted the pornstar Rocco Siffredi, in Romance.

In an interview with Senses of Cinema, she described David Cronenberg as another filmmaker she considers to have a similar approach to sexuality in film. --[1]

New Nouvelle Vague

It's tough being a female director in France. The boys have all the fun, define the critical agenda, and then take all the credit. Catherine Breillat, current thinking-crumpet woman, made six films before she stormed world festivals with Romance, heralding the new Nouvelle Vague. Sensational or sensationalist, the film grabbed headlines for its uncompromising depiction of real sexual intercourse. It challenged the notoriously stuffy BBFC, and opened the way for the legal availability of hardcore porn in Britain. Her next film, A Ma Soeur (Fat Girl), was a stunning stand-out at Berlin 2001. --Sophie Levy for http://www.thecontext.com/docs/752.html

On penis envy

Q:Why are you opposed to Freudian readings of your work?

A:To me Freud is the protector of bourgeois society: he assuages the symptoms so that society can continue unchanged. His analysis of women was very naive: women at that time had so little power it was natural they would feel a desire to be a man. That wasn't penis envy - it was envy for the rights men had. --http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/2004_12/breillat_interview.php [Nov 2004]

Breillat on "In the Realm of the Senses"

" Nagisa Oshima is my master," she says. "Seeing his films showed me that I was working in the right direction. He pushes his characters to the edge of the abyss." In particular, Breillat has been inspired by Oshima's 1976 Cannes prizewinner In the Realm of the Senses, not least because its unprecedentedly graphic scenes of sexual passion stirred up censorship rows and watch committees across the world [...].


"Well, it's a simple enough story," she starts briskly. "A man meets a woman and seems to conquer her and they start to fuck – they're bound together by sex, it's their way of escaping reality. But the more they [do this], the clearer it becomes that the woman is the stronger. The man is drawn in until he has no hope of retreat, he's imprisoned – it's like Napoleon in Russia. --http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2003/07/19/bfmof19.xml

Male frontal nudity

[...] So at the core of her picture is a scene in which the actor's male pride is humiliated by being measured for a fake penis, to be discreetly exposed during a seduction scene. It's a sly dig at the hypocrisy of a culture that tolerates seasons of soft porn while censoring franker portrayals such as Breillat's [...] --http://film.guardian.co.uk/censorship/news/0,11729,660428,00.html

With her last film, Romance, Catherine Breillat became notorious for showing an erect penis in a mainstream movie. Her latest deals with a teenager's loss of virginity. She tells Libby Brooks why love-making is the key to humanity [...] --http://film.guardian.co.uk/censorship/news/0,11729,660428,00.html

[...] newer releases have found themselves subject to less stringent examination by this new, liberalised BBFC, and recently both The Idiots and Intimacy have been deemed fit for release in the UK. This is especially interesting when you consider that The Idiots features scenes of penetrative sex, while Intimacy contains such delights as an erect penis and a man being orally pleasured by his lover. --http://www.toxie.com/essays/art_imitating_life.htm

Sex is Comedy (2002) - Catherine Breillat

    Sex is Comedy (2002) - Catherine Breillat

    Writer-director Catherine Breillat's new film Sex Is Comedy (2002) bases its premise on the shooting of a sex scene from Breillat's last film A Ma Soeur!/Fat Girl (2001), and casts Anne Parillaud in the role of Jeanne, director of the film-within-the-film and a thinly disguised version of Breillat herself. It's as though she were compiling DVD extras for A Ma Soeur! and became so hooked on the "making-of" documentary that she turned it into a feature - similar to the way in which screenwriter Charlie Kaufman spun a whole new movie, Adaptation (2002), from the problem of how to write the follow-up to Being John Malkovich (1999). It's unclear, though, to what extent Sex Is Comedy asks to be viewed as an insider's account of the making of A Ma Soeur!, or a movie in its own right. -- Edward Lamberti, http://www.kamera.co.uk/reviews_extra/sex_is_comedy.php [Nov 2004]

    Breillat has encapsulated her beliefs about filmmaking in her latest movie, Sex Is Comedy. It's almost self-parody, the story of a female director shooting an intimate film with a recalcitrant male lead, but it's a far cry from those loving recreations of the movie world such as François Truffaut's La Nuit américaine. --http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2003/07/19/bfmof19.xml

A Real Young Girl (1976) - Catherine Breillat

    A Real Young Girl (1976) - Catherine Breillat
    Perhaps Catherine Breillat was well into her career when she made this film and the title is not appropriate, I don't know, as I don't follow careers, I watch movies. This movie strikes me as pretty much a student film with sparkles of brilliance. Catherine Breillat deliberately juxtapositions scenes that should be erotic to disgusting, like breaking apart a worm and placing its pieces onto the star's pubic hair while she is tied. This technique is played out so much that "A Real Young Girl" could be used for a curing film like those poor Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" was forced to watch to cure him from his urges. A fine film for anyone following Breillat's career. Otherwise, jump right to Breillat's "Romance", which is an exceptional piece of filmwork and the single most organic representation of life I have ever experienced captured to celluloid. -anonymous via amazon.com

Fat Girl/À ma soeur! (2001) - Catherine Breillat

Fat Girl/À ma soeur! (2001) - Catherine Breillat

Trivia: The ban imposed upon the film by the Ontario Film Review Board in November 2001 (on the grounds that it offended "contemporary provincial moral standards") was finally lifted in January 2003, after Bill Moody replaced Robert Warren as the Board's Chair and new guidelines for reviewing films were adopted. The film's North American distributor, Cowboy Pictures, had also threatened the OFRB with a lawsuit.

Brève Traversée/Brief Crossing (2001) - Catherine Breillat

Brève Traversee/Brief Crossing (2001) - Catherine Breillat [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Catherine et Cie (1975) - Michel Boisrond

Catherine et Cie (1975) - Michel Boisrond [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Michel Boisrond is a French film director born 1921 and died 2002. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Boisrond [Dec 2005]

The film above was his last feature film, it was written by Breillat.

See also: French cinema - Catherine Breillat - Jane Birkin

Parfait amour!/Perfect Love (1996) - Catherine Breillat

Parfait amour!/Perfect Love (1996) - Catherine Breillat [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

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