What starts as a chance meeting between a 30-something English woman Alice (Sarah Pratt) and a 16 year-old French boy (Gilles Guillain) quickly develops into much more on an overnight ferry ride. As the conversation progresses, it is clear that although the two have virtually nothing in common, the sexual tension is evident. When they finally act on their growing attraction, a surprise twist is thrown in that will leave you wondering who really seduced who.
Brève traversée 8.0
eyelights: the richness of the dialogues. the ending.
eyesores: the unlikeable protagonists.
‘Brève traversée’ is a 2001 Catherine Breillat film commissioned by the Arte television network in conjunction with Elle magazine for a series called “Masculin/Féminin“. The series consisted of ten films by ten filmmakers (five women and five men), and the purpose was to explore the impact of the feminism from decades past on modern relationships. Each film was to explore a moment in time, not a full relationship.
Breillat’s critically-acclaimed film takes place on a massive ferry connecting France and England. It’s the story of 16-year-old Thomas and 30-year-old Alice, who meet on this ferry and spend half a day and night getting to know and trying to seduce each other. It brings audience face-to-face with their own preconceptions about relationships, boldly spotlighting age of consent as well as gender roles and expectations.
Most of the film consists of dialogues between the two main characters – although much of it is a monologue, with Alice discussing her views on men and women, portraying them as callous, wanting only one thing. She also makes a claim that men want to oppress women because they are naturally weaker (ex: they can’t create life, they can lose their beauty as early as 25 and certainly do by the age of 40, …etc.).
As per usual, Breillat expresses strong views and it’s hard to know which are her own and which are lifted from other women and brought to life by her character (on the DVD, there is a lengthy interview with her, in which she attests to loving men, but that women have no representation in history; they have effectively been silenced). I didn’t agree with everything that Alice said, as I found much if it narrow-minded, but it was nonetheless stimulating.
Neither character is likeable. Alice is embittered and cold, while Thomas is uninteresting and passive. But they’re both fascinating anyway. To me, there was no apparent attraction between them; it looked like convenience more than anything else. The whole time, I was under the impression that he patiently endured her rants to get into her pants, and that she was drinking to muster the courage to get into bed with him.
It turned out to be quite untrue.
We eventually discover that she’s been lying (there are hints when she confuses her lies with respect to how long she’d left her husband) and that he may also have been spinning his own fibs. Strangely, I bought into the characters’ stories part and parcel, thinking that her brand of verbal diarrhea could hide no lies. But I was wrong. At the end, I wanted to watch it again right away to try to discern fact from fiction.
Primarily, however, I was curious to see how Breillat would approach her protagonists’ age disparity. Given how reprehensible this is for many people, I fervently hoped that she would take a different tack. Based her previous work, I was sure she would delve into the matter with little judgment (mind you, it must be noted that the age of consent in France is 15). This proved to be true, although the pair do discuss his age a little bit.
This is particularly topical these days, seeing as the age of consent has recently been changed from 14 to 16 in Canada, and what with the whole Jennifer Mason debacle: Until just a few years ago, the victim’s age wouldn’t have been a legal matter; it wouldn’t have been considered criminal. Suddenly, however, given that Canada’s laws were changed, it is. But, if it hadn’t been a legal concern then, would it have been a moral one?
Personally, I always thought that maturity should be the key factor, not one’s physical age, when one wants to assess if someone is ready to be sexual. By that standard, some people might not be ready for sex until they’re much older than our current age of consent requires. But that’s pretty much impossible to measure, and society needs to draw the line somewhere. The big question is: who gets to decide, and based on what?
I love that this subject was broached by Breillat, because it’s rarely done from a female-dominant perspective. Let’s face it: in such stories, it’s usually the man who’s older. Also, the man is often made out to be a predator, whereas I didn’t get this impression of Alice: Breillat portrayed her as anywoman, as none other than your neighbour, your friend, or even your own lover. Despite Thomas’ age.
Of course, this is typical of Breillat: she always puts women in control of their own destinies and doesn’t judge them in the same way that society judges them. In ‘36 fillette‘, her lead was a 14-year-old girl who seduces an older man to have sex with her. In “Romance‘, her married protagonist has affairs because her husband won’t have sex with her, in ‘Sale comme un ange‘, the woman seduces a man to get herself pregnant.
But she doesn’t judge them. She lets us do the judging.
I’m a big fan of Catherine Breillat. I don’t always thoroughly enjoy her films, I don’t always agree with the views she expresses in them, and I don’t always understand what her intentions are. However, she challenges her audiences, she questions the status quo, she pushes to redefine the roles that women and men are boxed in, and I can’t help but applaud her for that. She is controversial, yes, but with controversy comes dialogue.
And with dialogue comes change.
Date of viewing: September 13, 2014