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Catherine Breillat, director of Bluebeard
With Nicolas Rapold
In her new film, director Catherine Breillat (The Last Mistress) elaborates on a Perrault fairy tale about a young girl who marries Bluebeard an unsightly rich man rumored to murder his wives. The medieval-set story, shot in untouched ancestral lands and castles in Limousin, is interspersed with modern scenes of a girl telling her older sister stories.
This is a classic fairy tale but it also feels like an exaggerated depiction of a girl marrying a much older man.
You're the first person who's noticed that! [Laughs] I thought that aspect would create a huge scandal, but nobody noticed or referred to it. [Laughs] Especially the scene, for example, after Bluebeard has left on his first trip, when we see her on top of the castle with the teenager. Bluebeard comes back, and she throws herself into his arms. I thought that would be an absolute scandal, but nobody mentioned it. The thing that people notice is that there's no sex or nudity.
How was it making another period film after The Last Mistress?
I was preparing to shoot Bluebeard when I had my stroke and, after that, because the film was very dark, I was a little afraid of dealing with the subject matter. Afterward, I wanted to make The Last Mistress to show people I hadn't disappeared by making my biggest period piece of all. I always make period films in a handcrafted way. I love touching the fabrics, choosing the locations. I'm always fascinated by how you can transform a location and use the same location for two or three different settings.
Perrault's Bluebeard story, being a fairytale, has a moral: don't be too curious.
The best way to ensure that child will do what it's forbidden to do is to tell them not to do it. When I was a child, I always did what was forbidden. That was what drew me. That was the desire in this tale. [Bluebeard] gives the young girl the keys, tells her not to go into the room, and of course she's inescapably lured to opening that door. It's the same thing with sexuality. Everything that's forbidden to us, it makes us unavoidably drawn to it.
But it's not something that's forbidden for a practical reason, like, don't touch the stove because you'll burn yourself. Here it's: "Don't go somewhere you don't know, because I know what's there. Don't go where I've been." It's the opposite imagery from Eve: whereas Eve gives the man the apple, here it's the man who gives the key.
Besides the story of Eve, something one of the sisters says about marriage reminded me of Plato's Symposium story, about finding our other half.
I just thought of that myself! [Laughs] Now it seems obvious. You're looking for your other half but it has to be identical; it can't be something different.
Maybe there's a bit of Plato's cave in the film, too.
The idea that you see better underground is a Hermetic truth, because in the Hermetic myth you see better at night than in the day. Because at nighttime you see the stars and the entire universe, whereas in the day you can only see the sky. These myths are all on the same level. We all have the same feelings, the same emotions, we all react the same way. We all are identical, whether good or bad. So the fairytale is part of these prototypes of fiction we identify with.
It's striking that when the girl first sees Bluebeard, you have her looking into the camera putting us in the position of Bluebeard.
I often do that identification. I argued about that for a long time with my first assistant. It's what I call the subjective reverse angle [le contre-champs subjective]. It's when you place the camera in the position of that person's gaze. Then you don't have to show that character, the character is eclipsed.
But nowadays to avoid these long fruitless arguments, I film what I call "fuck you" connecting shots. There's a way of filming that's not allowed; I'm always told that I can't do that, but I do it, and I manage to edit those scenes, and they work. I always shoot scenes according to my sense of beauty.
What comes after Bluebeard for you?
I've just submitted three days ago the script for a second fairy tale: Sleeping Beauty.