Catherine Breillat is the bad-girl intellectual of French cinema. Her subject is l’amour fou and its consequences–murder, suicide, temporary or permanent insanity-shown from a female perspective. Brutal as they are, her films are often wickedly funny. Breillat’s great strength as a filmmaker is to plunge you into the depths of a destructive, obsessive relationship and
simultaneously suggest what that relationship would look like if only you could step outside.
Anthology Film Archives is presenting a retrospective of five of Breillat’s films, including a preview of her wildly controversial Romance, a definitive text on female masochism and her most optimistic work. I have a particular taste for the darker Dirty Like an Angel (1991) and Perfect Love! (1986). In the latter, a 38-year-old eye surgeon and mother takes up with a narcissistic young man and loses all sense of herself as the relationship goes from bad to worse. Dirty Like an Angel twists the traditional policier and the traditional oedipal triangle so that the woman is the subject, not the object, of the narrative. Again it deals with a guilt-driven sexual relationship, this time between the wife of a young cop and his much olderpartner. Breillat is fearless in showing how betrayal, shame, and repulsion fuel sexual desire.
Also included: 36 Fillette (1987), a tough coming-of-age flick in which a 14-year-old girl, wrestling with her desire to lose her virginity, hits on a 40-year-old
playboy and Tapage Nocturne (1979), her second feature, which is just as sadomasochistic as her later films, but to less effect.