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Infused with a sumptuous elegance, Catherine Breillat's eerie retelling
of the Charles Perrault fairytale Bluebeard is very sensual and highly
stylized while adhering to an almost literary interpretation of the
story. Shown at the Vancouver Film Festival, the film operates on
parallel levels, both involving two sisters. In the first story, two
young sisters play in the attic of their home in France in the present
time. Catherine, who according to Breillat's autobiographical material,
represents the director, plays power games with her older but more
withdrawn sister Marie-Anne by tormenting her with readings of the
classic horror story "Bluebeard".
While young Catherine is reading the story, the drama plays out on the screen in a setting that looks like the 16th century. Another pair of sisters Anne (Daphne Baiwir) and Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton) (note the similarity in names) receive sad news at a convent from a coldly unfeeling Mother Superior that their father was killed while trying to save a little girl. Without means to continue at their private school, the girls are unceremoniously thrown out. On the way home, they pass Bluebeard's Castle and comment on the local aristocrat who, rumor has it, married many wives who strangely disappeared.
It is not long until the corpulent Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas) begins to court the young and attractive Marie-Catherine. Without money for a dowry, Marie-Catherine, undaunted by the whispers, agrees to marry the wealthy Bluebeard. The film then moves back and forth between the two stories, with the younger girls' reading and commenting on the fairytale providing comic relief for the heavy drama of male power and female sexual awareness unfolding at the castle. Marie-Catherine seems to have charmed Bluebeard who appears loving but whose intimidating frame towers over the slender virgin.
Marie has, however, cannily set things up in her favor. She has chosen for herself a room so small that the hefty Bluebeard cannot enter but she can tiptoe down the hall and peek into the room where he is getting undressed. When he goes away on an unspecified trip, Marie-Catherine invites her sister Anne to the house and they have much fun but Marie is sad until her new husband returns home one month later. Before leaving on his second trip, however, he gives his wife a key to a mysterious room in the cellar with the impossible instruction not to open the door. Frightened of disobeying her husband but tantalized by the secret, Marie-Catherine unlocks the mystery chamber only to be confronted by her worst fears and the story plays out in Breillat's provocative and unpredictable fashion.
Bluebeard's setting immerses the audience in a world that is far removed from today's realities, yet teenage newcomer Lola Créton gives Marie-Catherine a playful confidence and pride to go along with her natural purity and innocence in a way that speaks to today's feminist sensibilities. Going backwards and forwards in time also highlights the universal qualities inherent in the Gothic fairy tales that, even when they are decidedly dark as in this case, have a lot to teach us about confronting our fears, lessons often hidden by the pandering of Walt Disney animation. Resonant with wit and sexual tension, Catherine Breillat has, in Bluebeard reestablished the reality of the world of children both full of terror and untold beauty and, in the process, has created a minor masterpiece.
Despite possibly the most charming child performance in a movie ever
(no I have not watched all movies ever) by Marilou Lopes-Benites, I
didn't allow myself to fall for Bluebeard, though this little girl
narrator is so winsome that on occasion her charm has the audience
The way that Bluebeard is shot is very casual, almost matter-of-fact and Rohmerian, strangely for what is potentially such an atmospheric story. The level of graft going on is very low, more befitting a conversational type film a la Rohmer. I also took badly to a scene of animal slaughter that seemed inhumane.
I think comparisons with Tarsem Singh's wonderful movie The Fall are beneficial. In both movies there have two timelines, the first, the timeline of narration is set in the early Twentieth Century, the second is a period fantasy being narrated. In both movies there is a charming child actress, in The Fall it's Catinca Untaru. Where The Fall succeeds in my view is that the fantastical narrative really feels like a product of the narrators' minds. In Bluebeard, even though the girls are reading from a book, the resultant fantasy doesn't feel like a product of their minds, but distinctly a product of Catherine Breillat's mind, too knowing and sophisticated. Quite clearly for example the children would not have been imagining the squirming of a dying animal. Even though the narration is less ostentatious, and takes up less screen time, as with The Fall you really can make a case for it being the most moving part.
I think Breillat did manage to access the essence of the Bluebeard story which is that if you are a big ugly sensitive oaf, you are condemned to not participate in life, one of my fondest quotes, from Le Quai Des Brumes / Port of Shadows (in French it's more eloquent) is "It's horrible to love like Romeo when you look like Bluebeard!". I think that's what worse is that women often don't acknowledge that it's possible that such a man could have the feelings of Romeo, as if only pretty and graceful men could feel like that. Something that should never be forgotten is that passion is something everyone feels.
Brief summary of the plot is that Bluebeard is a rich man rumoured to have murdered previous wives. He takes new wives without dowry, and persuades Marie-Catherine, a child bride, to marry him. There are some funny post marital scenes, like when Bluebeard is sat eating an ostrich egg, and Marie-Catherine is sat eating a quail egg side by side.
I really am fond of the movie, but I would have liked to see more mise-en-scene, the movie as I say, is far too casual. There is a feeling of great boredom that arises from the last scene of the fantasy strand, in a scene that should perhaps be incredibly stirring.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Cathérine Breillat folds two fairy tales into another, one of her own design and the classic narrative theme Barbe Bleue (King Blue-beard). I guess she deliberately renders the performances and sets artificial and hollow. This is for example clearly indicated in the tower stairs scene, where the same part of the spiral stairs is shown over and over again to give the impression of a high tower but there are distinctive parts showing it's always the same. As if this wasn't already clear enough, at one point she needlessly lets the image flip to show its cut. I interpret this as a cryptic reflection of narrative tradition where she blends the image of the girl devouring King Blue beard into a new image of the girl's courage and fearless endeavor. Hence Lola Creton is the only one who seems to be allowed to give a glowing performance and so she does. A difficult film, but worth a watch if anything of the above made sense to you or you know and like Breillat's unconventional work.
Blue Beard (2009)
* 1/2 (out of 4)
Incredibly disappointing adaptation of Charles Perrault's fairy tale has sisters Marie-Catherine (Lola Creton) and Anne (Daphne Baiwir) being taken out of a rich school after the death of their family. Moving back with their mother, the three are now desperately poor and this is when they're invited to the castle of Lord Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas) and soon after Marie-Cathrine agrees to marry him. This story has been told countless times before but I had high hopes going into this one because I'm always impressed with the work of director Catherine Breillat. I'm sure some might be able to say this film spoke to them or that it was deep in some fashion but to me it was just a complete mess from start to finish and the worst thing is that it's totally lifeless. I'm really not sure what the director was trying to do here but no matter what the goal was it certainly didn't succeed. I was rather shocked to see how lifeless the picture was as it doesn't contain a bit of energy and after a while the viewer just grows tired of the slow pacing. Even worse is that this thing clocks in at 78-minutes, which feels twice as long. It was impossible to care about either of the sisters and all the flashbacks to a couple girls playing in an attic just doesn't work or add anything to the picture. The one thing I did like about the film were the performances. I thought Creton was very effective in the role of the strong sister who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. I also thought Thomas was extremely good as the ogre Bluebeard. He brought a certain sympathetic nature to the role that I thought worked very well. With that said, the film is a major letdown and it's a real shame because it should have been much, much better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Its a sad thing to see the tragedy unfold, that tragedy of growing
weariness of life we have impressed on the story of the lost innocence
of a girl.
There are three such stories here.
The least interesting is the 'fairy tale' itself: an innocent younger sister by fate ends up married. Her impression of her husband is stretched in her mind: he is huge, with appetite to match. Urges related to sex, which she has not yet felt, are mapped onto bloody murder. Her wedding night will be a death. The bridal chamber, accessed by a golden key, is a storehouse of dead women, all dripping fresh blood on the floor from under their nightgowns. Fears, fears. Unlike the typical Breillat, the man here is gentle and suffers. But like the rest of her work, it concerns the strangeness of sex as it barrels into young girl's lives.
All of it is highly abstract, absurdly so.
Redhead note: our girl's older and wiser sister is played by an extreme prototype redhead. When they get to the castle of grownups, they encounter an actual sexually active woman, and she is yet more extremely redheaded. There is an initial recognition and embrace.
This tale is wrapped in a second, set in Brellait's childhood era. In this case, two sisters younger than those in the tale discover the book of the story. Much is made of the disparately between the two: the younger one is 'more advanced' and she lords it over her sister. When we see these two, peppered throughout, we see how profound is their ignorance of adult ways. As the inner story produces its gruesome end of an undeserved death, so does the outer story.
But there is the third story, the outer wrapper, the story of the filmmaker who we knew as a young woman. She made some films full of energy, richness, sexual imbalance and personal pain. Now she is a mature woman, and all the blood is gone. All we have left is lifeless metaphor.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I like reading what other people thinks about the movies I watch, so I
felt kind of surprised by noticing how much appreciation this very film
has obtained, since I've found it ridiculous. Even though I'm pretty
sure that people is really trying too hard to justify it - apparently
every single detail MUST conceal a hidden meaning - I honestly can't
rule out the possibility that I am simply too dumb to understand it.
Anyway, this movie really disappointed me, and I'm going to explain you
I am a big fan of Perrault's fairy tale, which I find delightfully disturbing, plenty as it is with darkness, morbidity and untold secrets. Bluebeard himself is a major character in his evilness - ferocious, deceitful, violent. I expected to feel at least part of such upsetting atmosphere, but I felt nothing (but boredom). Do you remember the scene when Bluebeard discovers the blood on the key? It was absolutely unbelievable. We've reached the dramatic climax but the characters look embalmed in their blank expressions - not to mention that they WHISPER, as if they were in a Dior commercial... So I thought, "Ok, maybe the director wanted to shift to a more psychological dimension. Maybe she was not interested in blood and slaughter after all" (despite the image of the poster, I mean). That would be fine, but I couldn't understand at all what was her point. Was it humanizing Bluebeard? I guess she tried to show him as a tormented poor pal, but didn't succeed it. He just looks spineless and absurd in his final resolution to kill his wife. Was it examining the relationship between the two sisters? Well, then why choosing a fairy tale like Bluebeard? Bluebeard deals with the relationship between husband and wife, not between sisters. Many other stories would have fit better.
Apart from this, I really don't like when directors act mysterious just like this. You're a director, not the Sphinx: if you want to say something with a movie, just say it - or, at least, let your clues be clear and unequivocal. See for example the long-lasting scene with Marie- Catherine caressing Bluebeard's head: what is that supposed to mean? Is he sad? Is he satisfied? Is she shocked? Is she depressed? All of the above? And... what the heck is the role of the two young siblings in the attic?? Apart from speaking nonsenses, of course. What's the point in making one of them fall down in the end? I don't know, and I don't think anyone could answer once and for all. I personally find it annoying. If you're not able to let me get what you meant, you're not brilliant, you're only a bad communicator.
Charles Perraux's 17th century folktale has terrified generations of
children with the story of a psycho killer nobleman murdering his wives
while teaching a lesson about the horrors that await those who are
disobedient (specially girls) doing what has been forbidden. Apparently
based on a real serial killer nobleman, the story certainly contains
psycho-sexual elements that in proper hands could become a heady
Considering Catherine Breillat's previous films (Romance among others), one would expect a tour of the dark and tortured aspects of human sexuality involving power, violence, and other themes she has explored in the past. Instead we are presented with two movies both equally bland and meandering: in one, two little girls sneak into an attic that is off-limit to them and read to each other the book Bluebeard; in the second one, the story comes to life as imagined by the girls. The result is neither fish nor fowl: a movie that is too complicated for children but boring and pointless for adults.
The two girls interrupt their reading to talk about scattered subjects, get scared by the story, and argue as siblings do. The heroine as imagined by the girls is a colorless young woman who does not convey the fear or anxiety the girl in the original story has. The villain, fat and morose, is not threatening or mysterious enough to create an impending sense of doom. The movie, despite some rich scenes of a fairytale France, goes nowhere. It is a sad day when a self indulgent job such as this one passes for art.
The tale of blue beard told with beautiful visuals. But sadly the story
and the film is marred by two unforgivable things. Mainly, the acting
is so wooden you think the actors might catch fire from the open fires.
It is impossible to discern any emotion at all from the actors. And
secondly, the story is drawn out by being read by two young girls in a
more contemporary setting, it does not add much but extra time to an
already too long film. I watched the film anyway, hoping for a new
twist, for some emotion from the actors, for some clue as to the
relationship between Bluebeard and his new wife, but ultimately I was
only disappointed. This is not a film for watching, this is a film for
lying down and avoiding.
I also noted a jarring anachronism, everything in the story has the look of a medieval setting, but in this setting there are 17th century musketeers. Guess the filmmakers took any prop they could get their hands on.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You would think that a film called "Barbe Bleue" ("Bluebeard") would be
an exciting and high energy film. Yet, somehow, the filmmakers have
managed to make a story bereft of energy and lifeless--and you are left
wondering why they made the film in the first place. There's a funny
contrast, however. Although the film is 'lifeless', the dead father
(seen early in the film) can be seen breathing as he lies there on the
bed! The film has a very odd non-linear style. Although the film seems
to be set around 1500 (judging by the clothing), some things (such as
the carriage) are from a later period--making it hard to place the
film. What makes it harder is that the films keeps cutting to a much,
much later time where two young girls talk about the story of
Bluebeard. These more modern moments seem pretty irrelevant to the film
and are confusing. At first, I thought the very young girls who were
the sisters living around the 16th century--but they apparently were
not. Why this was done, I have no idea and it really detracted from the
"Barbe Bleue" begins with two sisters in a convent school. The head mistress is a cold fish and announces, completely dispassionately, that their father just died and they are no longer welcome in the school, as it's 'not a charity' and they can no longer afford the tuition. The two return home to their mother and they are impoverished. Soon a way out arrives--the notorious 'Bluebeard' invites a group of girls to his château in order to pick a new wife. Now considering he's married several times before and his wives all disappeared soon after the wedding, he's not exactly a prime candidate for a new husband. But, the youngest daughter isn't afraid of him and his reputation and soon marries him. She appears about age 12 and rather small. He's at least 40 and rather huge--a strange match indeed.
Now if you know the story, you know that sooner or later the new wife will discover Bluebeard's room filled with dead wives hanging from hooks. But before this, Bluebeard treats his new wife sort of like a student--and teachers her about nature and astronomy. Eventually, like the original story, the new wife finds the bodies and he discovers that she's learned this secret because traces of blood (from all the corpses) is on the key he left her. Now I know that this is a very old story (recorded by Charles Perrault), but why would a crazy serial killer leave his new wife all the keys to the château--including the one for the room of bodies?! Well, I can't blame the film makers for this--but the original tale doesn't make a lot of sense. But, like in the old story, rescuers come and same the wife--and destroy the dreaded Bluebeard. All that happens in the movie has almost zero energy--and it's hard to imagine so much could transpire with only a few tears but nothing more.
There were a few other mistakes and problems in the film and I want to mention a couple. First, note when Bluebeard and his wife are walking up the staircase, each time they round the corner, they walk up the exact same set of stairs. They try to make it look as if the characters are walking up a long winding set of stairs--but it is the same small number of steps filmed again and again. Sloppy. Just plain sloppy. Also, in a case of obvious foreshadowing, you get to see a duck beheaded. It's graphic and unnecessary--and seems to be a bit of a recent trend, as I've seen quite a few recent European films showing animals being killed. Considering they are killing the animal just for the film, it seems pretty cruel (it's not like it's being used for food--just for a gratuitous scene). I am sure more sensitive viewers will NOT enjoy this portion of the film. It occurs soon after the folks arrive at the dance--about half an hour into the movie.
Because the movie is so dull, lifeless and has many dumb mistakes, I cannot at all recommend it. The bottom line is that the story is a hard one to make into a film, but surely they should have done a lot better than this!
If you are familiar with some of director Catherine Breillat's previous
works, you might enter this with a certain expectation to see genitalia
and penetrative sex. But in her adaptation of the fairy tale of Blue
Beard there is thankfully none.
In olden days, when two young sisters are removed from the private school after their father dies they return to live with their mother and circumstances look dire. A local Lord, known as Blue Beard has a reputation for the ladies and rumours abound that his previous wives and lovers, now missing, were murdered by him. After an invite to a gathering at his castle, one of the young sisters befriends the giant Lord and their marriage is arranged. Marie loves to the cold stark castle aware of the reputation her new husband has and demands that due to her age she sleep in a separate room until she is of age to consummate the marriage. Blue Beard travels away on occasion leaving Marie to her own devises. Amongst this we have in more modern times two young sisters play in an attic and the younger taunts her older more sensitive sister by reading her the story of Blue Beard which she finds scary.
This adaptation is at times very clunky to watch. The cast seem very amateurish and some scenes look like it's been made by a student production. Whilst not familiar with the story, it appears to be quite dark and yet there never really is a sense of foreboding in the film and it never really enters in really dark territory which doesn't work in it's favour. Only near the end does the film show a darker element as Marie faces the consequences of her actions and the modern tale of the two sisters takes an unfortunate turn.
The younger cast do quite well, especially the young girls in the modern part. In fact they provide the only real enjoyment throughout the film as the younger tease and taunts her sister and some of their conversations are priceless. Yet at first these scenes when they appear add confusion to the story as it's not immediately apparent what is happening. The castle settings, in fact the whole setting looks overly baron and cold and it looks odd, especially as there is no contrast between Marie's poor family home and the Lord's sumptuous castle.
Overall the film feels a little stagnant that even at 80 minutes running time feels over long. It is a good story, but save for some nice performances and a few laughs from the two modern sisters, this seems like a bad attempt at film making that clearly shows it's low budget.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
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