ROMANCE

Written and Directed by Catherine Breillat

Starring
– Caroline Ducey as Marie
– Sagamore Stévenin as Paul
– François Berléand as Robert
– Rocco Siffredi as Paulo

We can’t decide if Matt is an intellectual or a pervert

Given Hollywood’s obsession with masculinity, it must be left to the
independent film scene (or Europe) to advance a decidedly female
agenda. Catherine Breillat is just such a filmmaker; an unsentimental,
hard-edged feminist director from the wiles of France. More than siding
with women, however (this is no promoter of silly chick flicks),
Breillat has as her mission the complete and total destruction of the
penis – to so expose the patriarchal propaganda that reduces women to
mere objects that men are left as whimpering, sniveling dogs without
recourse or voice. For her, men are sadistic beasts of unending gloom
and narcissism; perverted savages who use sex to manipulate, humiliate,
and exert power. Sex itself, therefore, is devoid of passion or
fulfillment, unless of course a woman can use it to exact revenge,
build an identity, or curse the male half of the species to eternal
pain and madness. Lest Breillat sound too much like a closely-cropped,
slacks-wearing professor of women’s studies at your neighborhood
liberal arts university, I must defend her honesty and courage, as well
as her filmmaking skill. With her more recent film Fat Girl,
this film demonstrates to this critic that a major voice is at work; a
woman intent on challenging prevailing winds and exposing the rank
hypocrisies that pass for truth whenever we as a culture discuss human
sexuality.

Romance, simply enough, is the story of Marie (Caroline Ducey),
a waif-like Parisian suffering through a humiliating and one-sided
relationship with her boyfriend. Subverting conventional sexual roles,
Caroline’s boyfriend refuses to have sex because he feels it degrades
the relationship and reduces their love to a physical act. Marie is
constantly seducing her young man, only to be met with indifference and
often times, hostility. Whenever she slips into bed, he is vacantly
watching television, seemingly uninterested in Marie’s presence. In a
particularly telling scene, Marie is performing oral sex (note: on one
of the smallest penises in film history) and he appears no more
involved than if he were attending the ballet. Nothing is suitable or
compelling – he simply will not have sex. Yet, in a bitter twist, he
flirts with other women, dancing with them openly while Marie is forced
to watch. He insists that it is all harmless, yet she is not so sure.
As a result, she must seek satisfaction elsewhere, and thus begins the
journey of a woman obsessed.

Marie scans the bars for one-night stands, seduces a co-worker at her
school (isn’t a woman like this always a teacher?), and submits to a
brutal act of copulation in a hallway. She engages in S&M rituals
and indulges in wild sessions of mindless sex, yet continues to return
to her disinterested partner. It may seem trite at this late date, but
it is still revolutionary for a woman to define herself in relation to
her bedroom conquests. As much as we might fantasize about loose women
and their buried desires, in the end we’d rather have the
well-adjusted, respectful virgin tending to our needs. Did that sound
convincing enough? Of course not. Nubile young flesh thrown about in
uninhibited, orgiastic fashions is the only preferred state of
womanhood. And we admit this when we are being honest. If we must have
virgins, they must be of the type that appear in pornos – experienced,
willing, and receptive to dark, twisted fantasies. When you meet
virgins like this in real life, call me. They simply do not exist. Yet,
this is in fact what we want. Women like Breillat simply do not get it.
Forget the Madonna/Whore complex; we just want whore. Today, tomorrow, and all the time.

Romance is shocking for another reason – it shows erect penises
and, briefly, a snippet of ejaculation. [Ed Note: One of those penises
belongs to Italian porno stud Rocco Siffredi. The ten inch one.] For a
film that plays to non-peep show audiences, this is bold indeed,
although Breillat is not after titillation. Instead, she wants to
destroy the double-standard that allows female nudity while prudishly
covering up the male member. In addition, she wants to expose the male
organ as a tool of oppression; a reminder of all that men are and seek
to be. Find me an affliction in contemporary society, she seems to be
saying, and it can be reduced to the penis. From the fragile
self-esteems of women to interpersonal violence, all is the fault of
erect, throbbing penises. To correct this, she wants her women to play
by the same rules and watch the resulting chaos and confusion.

In the end, however, Marie gets pregnant and succumbs to her “destiny”
as a woman. She gives birth in a scene of graphic realism (which is as
it should be, rather than the few seconds of minor huffing and puffing
in Hollywood fare) and admits to herself and us that without children,
women are nothing. They do not exist for men or themselves. Breillat,
obviously, does not endorse this view, but suggests that the world
itself is responsible for such a narrow conception of Woman. Penises
get whatever they want (from play to power), and women are left to deal
with the havoc they have wreaked upon the world. Men pump and thrust;
women cook and clean. It’s as old as time itself.

How utterly depressing all of this is. Sex is power, men are infantile
pigs, and women must breed or face eradication. Still, I liked Romance.
It may heave and grown like a senior thesis at times, but I usually
embrace any film that asks question about the state of our lives.
Relationships seem to be the source of so much angst and woe that is
becomes necessary to deal with them in serious, non-farcical settings.
Humor is important, yes, but too often we use it as an excuse to avoid
the perversions that keep illusion alive. Men and women can screw and
live together without political statements getting in the way, but
agendas never disappear. We are, then, always fighting for our
recognition – our sense of who we are – even in the midst of a coupling.


Ruthless Ratings

  • Overall: 7
  • Acting: 8
  • Directing: 7
  • DVD extras: Not a thing (Yea!)
  • Re-watchability: 7
About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52