Director: Catherine Breillat
(French with English subtitles)
review by Mike Philbin
Never before have two French films needed to swap their titles. Where Une Liaison Pornographique
is a romantic character piece, Romance is a full-frontal no-holds-barred examination.
Opening scene - a photoshoot in a bullring, a man and a woman dressed as toreadors.
The sexual symbolism is literally pungent. Posed as a scene of traditional power, she looking up into
his eyes, he having to stand on tiptoes so as to tower over her manfully.
The heroine of the film, a junior school teacher, is the fiancée of the male
toreador - by the power of this central metaphor the tone of the film (that of male inadequacy) is
set in concrete. Throughout the film, the heroine describes her desperate moments of sexual adventure
in explicit detail. She is in the throes of mad love, an animal on the loose hunting for an
appropriate mate. The distant live-in lover doesn't want to see her every day and detests being
touched so she starts to stray, first with a well-endowed Italian she meets in a disco, next with a
raping derelict, then with her rope-tying dominating headmaster.
'One can be without having,' she tells her pupils on the subject of être and
avoir. The adult subtext is there as plain as a split open chest on a mortuary slab.
Stylistically and cinematographically, this is a masterfully lit and set film. The
camerawork is restrained, distant, almost voyeuristic. The overall palette of the bedroom is mid grey
bleeding to purest white.
Yes, you see everything, from fellatio to cunnilingus to bondage to
full-penetration sex. The explicitness of this material usually resident on the British film censor's
cutting room floor is such that a strangely surreal sheen is added to the film. You cannot believe
what you are watching. The 'legendary' penetration scene that garnered so much of the press on the
film's release takes place in a clinical setting and impersonal manner the viewer can never have
expected. American films just cannot be made this way.
Not a porn film by any stretch of the imagination; the lighting, editing, acting
and script are beyond the hackneyed in/out of that sad genre. This is a film of utmost artistic
In the gynaecologically explicit finale, a scene reminiscent of the ill-fated Kate
Winslett's demise in the gritty melodrama Jude The Obscure, our heroine fantasises about life
in a sex factory where guillotine walls split the upper torso from the lower while enormously erect
men service the glistening portals, exposed thighs and scented lace the only decoration.
Truly the most ferocious film of the year.
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