by Tony Dayoub
I'm starting to see a trend at this year's festival. Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard) is another film in this year's fest by a director who has earned a reputation for shocking moviegoers, Catherine Breillat. However, with Barbe Bleue she seduces us with the fearsome fairy tale's intrinsic luridness instead of her usual sensational embellishments. This exquisitely mounted fairy tale also, surprisingly, turns out to be quite a personal film for Breillat, making Barbe Bleue one of the festival's most wonderful surprises.
The original fairy tale concerns a terrible king named Bluebeard whose wives usually disappear after about a year, leading to speculation that he murders them and keeps their corpses hidden somewhere in his foreboding castle. In Barbe Bleue, Breillat sets up parallel storylines: one set in the fifties where the young Catherine (the precocious Marilou Lopes-Benites) loves to scare her older sister Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti) by reading the dark fairy tale to her until she is reduced to tears; the other is the fable itself, in which the newly destitute sisters Marie-Catherine (Lola Creton) and Anne (Daphné Baïwir) are chosen by Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas) to compete for the chance to be his next bride. Marie-Catherine, the sharper-tongued and less beautiful of the two, is the one that wins Bluebeard's heart.
Plainly, director Breillat sees herself in the young storyteller, Catherine, who delights in frightening her older sister. The young Catherine also identifies with her sort-of namesake, Marie-Catherine, wishing she could take her place in the story, an implicit suggestion that at one point Breillat makes explicit. Breillat uses these parallels to express her fascination with dark stories, informing us of the origins of her attraction with a quite sensitive retelling of a fable she obviously loved. This allows Breillat to indulge her black-humored sensibilities without resorting to her typical scandalous touches.
That said, there is still quite a "surprise" in store for more mild-mannered viewers late in Barbe Bleue. But given the charming, childlike, and personal world Catherine Breillat has given us access to in her film, it is hard not to laugh off the scene as nothing but her final "Boo!" to her audience.
Bluebeard is playing at the 47th New York Film Festival, at 2 p.m. today, at the Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, 1941 Broadway (at 65th Street), New York, NY 10023. For more ticket information go online here, or call (212) 875-5050
Photo Credit: Film Society of Lincoln Center/Pyramide Films