Synopsis: With cool precision and stunning intimacy, Catherine Breillat’s ROMANCE paints a provocative portrait of a young French woman, Marie, and her journey to gain control of her life. Marie’s boyfriend refuses to engage in sexual relations, catapulting her into a desperate search for intimacy and erotic connection. Marie embarks on an escalating sexual journey that tests her own physical and emotional limits.
eyelights: its exploration of the main character’s psychology.
eyesores: the language used. the ending.
After watching Catherine Breillat’s ‘L’anatomie de l’enfer‘, I started to read about it and her other motion pictures. I had seen a few of them already, but I was curious to see what the others were about and what kind of reaction they had garnered; being a growing fan of her oeuvre, I wanted to explore it in an informed manner, knowing full well that biting into a bad apple could spoil my appetite.
When I found out that she had made another explicit film, years prior, again with Rocco Siffredi, I was immediately curious to see what had possessed her to make two. I mean, I know that she tends to push the envelope some, but was it warranted a second time around? And why would she pick Siffredi twice? Was he that remarkable the first time around? To me, this was unfathomable, but I had to find out for sure.
What I discovered in ‘Romance’ is a film that is a little less heavy on the graphic sexuality and the intellectual discourse and more so on the delicate psychological balance of its main character. It’s a more subtle piece, eschewing the overtness of ‘Anatomie’, exploring her characters via their actions more so than through their words. In many ways it’s less intense, but it also feels more organic, more realistic this way.
‘Romance’ is the story of Marie, a young woman who is dissatisfied with her marriage. Her husband, Paul, a male model, shows no desire for her and even rebukes her sexual advances. Meanwhile, in the evening he goes out with his friends and dances with other women, often under Marie’s supervision. Her frustrations don’t come from jealousy, however: they come from desire – she longs to touch and be touched.
…to feel connected.
After warning him that she may stray if he doesn’t finally start taking care of her sexual needs, she begins a string of brief encounters with various men, some strangers, some more familiar to her, eventually finding herself in a sado-masochistic relationship with a work colleague. The film isn’t especially explicit, but it also doesn’t shy away from the naked human form, nor various acts of pleasuring.
Mostly, it’s about the dialogue, with the acts being secondary. The film wasn’t meant to be titillating, nor was it really an exploration of sexuality, per se – hence why the sex isn’t necessarily sexy. ‘Romance’ is about a woman’s quest to quench her desires while trapped in an unsatisfying relationship. Incapable of being emotionally and physically satisfied, she ends up pushing her limits in a vain attempt to numb the inner pain.
One could easily imagine that this is a story of infidelity, but it also isn’t that either. Paul isn’t cheating on Marie, even as she is sleeping with a variety of other men. It’s about loneliness, about feeling alone even while in a couple. If anything, the worst development is when Marie discovers that Paul isn’t seeking happiness in someone else’s arms: he is happy alone, without her. She is simply unwanted.
The emptiness of their couple and the emptiness of the interactions that Marie has are the heart of the matter in ‘Romance’. Some may think that the sex is gratuitous, but I would argue that it is part and parcel with the story and that it’s simply a frank exploration of what the character goes through in her attempt to come to terms with her situation. In no way is the sexuality on display meant to be erotic.
It’s a film that I really enjoyed watching, actually, given that human behaviour is fascinating to me and Marie’s journey makes sense contextually. I don’t mean to say that it’s appropriate or commendable, but every step is a natural extension of the last one and there is no point at which I felt that the character didn’t make sense, based on her way of approaching the world.
The only thing that marred the proceedings was the language used, because it wasn’t entirely naturalistic; it often felt too staged, too contrived to be real. I suppose that Breillat had a message to deliver and only knew how to do it in a certain voice, which is her own, but not necessarily her characters’. That is excusable, even as it could have been avoided. There was also the ending, which seemed abrupt and over-dramatic.
But, aside from this, ‘Romance’ is an unromantic, unglamourous look at relationships. It’s not heavy in the way that the disintegrating couple of ‘Blue Valentine‘ was, hardly, but it’s not for those looking to watch a sanitized Hollywood romance of yore. ‘Romance’ is frank, it’s unflinching, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s discussion fodder. I will certainly watch it again; I could do with a little more ‘Romance’ in my life.
Date of viewing: June 16, 2013