Director: Catherine Breillat

Few filmmakers have explored female sexuality with such unflinching candour as French writer-director Catherine Breillat does in Romance. Not since Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, has a non-pornographic film posed such a challenge to viewers and censors in its depiction of the extremes of obsessive love and sexual desire. Romance doesn’t have the political or historical resonance of Oshima’s masterpiece, but it’s clearly a serious and disturbing essay on some of the most basic human drives and emotions.
Filmed in a cool, almost clinical style, Romance charts a journey of self-discovery undertaken by Marie (Caroline Ducey), a young schoolteacher who’s frustrated by self-absorbed boyfriend Paul’s inability or unwillingness to make love to her. Deciding to give herself physically to other men but emotionally only to paul, Marie embarks on a series of increasing intense sexual encounters. She first find succour in the bed of Paolo (porn star Rocco Siffredi), but ditches him when she feels he may replace paul in her thoughts. She then gives herself to the school’s headmaster, Robert (Francois Berleand), an older man with a yen for bondage, with whom she pushes herself to disturbing limits.
Breillat’s approach has been criticised for being too detached and academic. It’s true that the mind/body split is an old construct, and the film draws on weighty literary sources (De Sade, Bataille, Bukowski) in an attempt to bolster its stream of philosophical musings on human sexuality. More important, though, is the power of the film’s images and the effect created by the heroine’s various encounters. On this level, Romance is undeniably powerful and disquieting, with a courageous performance by Ducey at its core.

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