by Anna Simone Minzer
Bluebeard (Barbe Bleue)
Dir. Catherine Breillat, France, Strand Releasing
Catherine Breillat’s newest feature Bluebeard opens this coming Friday (3.26.10) at the IFC in New York City. The film is based on a classic French fairytale known by the same title (en Français: La Barbe Bleu). Originally passed orally between women, the tale served as a cautionary parable for the potential dangers of marriage. Yet Charles Perrault’s widely circulated literary version focuses on a different concluding moral: the danger of female curiosity.
Breillat’s interpretation is principally simple and delicate. The story unfolds easily, like the course of our daily lives. The pace is even, characters are soft-spoken. Breillat utilizes a frame within a frame narrative structure for her film. In a dusty attic, two young sisters read the tale of Bluebeard aloud. Concurrently, Bluebeard is reenacted with a different cast, costumes and a stony castle. The secondary story’s costumes have a purposeful artifice. As if found at a renaissance festival, the customs serve as another reference to the film’s larger frame.
Brelliat investigates her favored themes of young women, the tension between innocence and blooming adolescence, sisterhood, beauty and body image. Bluebeard himself is gloomily obese, carrying the weighty knowledge of the world and his inner monster. In contrast his final wife is physically undeveloped, virginal and seemingly naïve.
Breillat has repossessed the tale, and under a woman’s hand its meaning becomes far more complex and ambiguous. The film’s final image is haunting and a clear homage to the countless paintings exhibiting the biblical figure of Salome.
Of course, it’s not a Catherine Breillat film without the element of surprise. Yet, it is the film’s finely woven nuances that make Bluebeard worth seeing.
Playing at the IFC: Friday, March 26 – Thursday, April 8.