Directed by Catherine Breillat.
Starring Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stévenin, François Berléand and Rocco Siffredi.
A sexually frustrated woman embarks on a series of encounters with different men to satisfy her need for physical intimacy.
Romance was originally released in 1999 and caused something of a stir amongst critics and audiences alike due to its sexually graphic content, but Romance isn’t a film meant to titillate or excite. Instead it’s a film that’s meant to explore the difference between the physical and the emotional, what it means to love and not be loved in the same way in return and how context is key when it comes to what is deemed acceptable in the confines of a relationship.
Marie (Caroline Ducey) is a schoolteacher whose partner Paul (Sagamore Stévenin) hasn’t touched her in months and refuses to let himself be touched by her. He does love her but her clingy behaviour puts him off being intimate so she begins to seek something physical elsewhere, despite being totally in love with Paul and telling him that she has never cheated on him – in her mind she hasn’t because she doesn’t have feelings for these other men. This leads her into some increasingly more extreme situations that force Marie to totally separate her emotions from physical gratification and question her relationship with Paul.
Or maybe that’s not quite what it is about as writer/director Catherine Breillat never really makes a clear point with the film. The story, such that it is, does show promise in several different places as Marie strives to break free from her asexual partner, in the physical sense at least, but with the way the character is written the film becomes very frustrating as Marie wants sex, then she doesn’t, then she does but not looking at who is doing the deed, and so on. It may be part of her journey of dicovery but the slow pace and Marie’s flip-flopping decisions carry on right up until the end of the film and then there’s no real resolution. Yes, there’s an ending but what does it mean? Why did it have to go the way it did? Not sure and, based on the narrative of Romance, neither is Catherine Breillat.
The sex scenes that caused so much controversy back in 1999 don’t seem as shocking as they were probably intended to be, Granted, we’ve had fifteen years of other films pushing the boundaries as far as explicit sex goes but except for a very close-up ejaculation shot there is very little here likely to cause too much offence – although there is a birth scene that feels like it was designed totally to shock but just feels unnecessary – especially when put up against other extreme movies like Baise Moi or Nymphomaniac, a film that has similar themes but fleshes them out in a more satisfactory way.
So overall, Romance is a little bit underwhelming on pretty much all fronts. There is a story there but Lars Von Trier has taken it and made a more interesting and entertaining film out of it, and when it comes down to it Romance isn’t actually a very enjoyable film to watch. It’s more arthouse than pornography and for all of its flaws it is shot very well but the dreary dialogue and metaphysical pondering bog down what should have been a much more exciting journey of discovery. Unless you’re a Euro-cinema completist or an arthouse aficionado the appeal of Romance may be severely limited.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
If you’re a fan of Flickering Myth and have a minute to spare, please vote for us in the National UK Blog Awards 2015. You can find our page here.