The Secret Behind the Door

03/24/2010 4:00 AM |

Directed by Catherine Breillat

The lessons of fairy tales make them notorious fodder for modish re-interpretation, but Catherine Breillat’s films are already pitched as forthrightly and unforgivingly as the grimmest such tales. More compact in feel than The Last Mistress but also framing its story-telling, her new digital-shot movie tells a full-on medieval-times fable, hopping out periodically to show a 20th-century girl tormenting her older sister with the story. The fascinations of death and eros figure in both, with the starkness that the format licenses, but the film’s also a seriocomic treatment of sisterly challenges and marital contracts.

In that sense, Bluebeard continues Breillat’s frank chronicle of less-depicted experiences: plotwise Marie-Catherine is a poor widow’s daughter married by a stout and wealthy wife-killer, but she’s also a young girl attached to a much older husband. And the expanded run-up to the fateful cohabitation vividly indulges in the era’s trappings: a cauldron to dye clothes black for mourning (after Marie-Catherine’s father dies), the smoldering emissary sent to their home by Bluebeard, the quadrille dance party Bluebeard holds to select his bride.

After successfully doing so in The Last Mistress, Breillat conscientiously plays around with the story’s frame: the modern girls are divertingly cutesy commentators (before, inevitably, becoming a fairy tale themselves). Perrault’s original (amusing) moral about curiosity is reworked in terms of hunger and desire for experience, or the stories that pave the way. If the 80-minute Bluebeard feels poised to slot into a series, it’s for good reason: coming up next is a Sleeping Beauty adaptation.

Opens March 26