This is a departure from my usual type of material that I review, we’re going to delve into late 90s arthouse cinema with 1999's Romance directed by Catherine Breillet. It tells the story of Marie played by Caroline Ducey a dyslexic, primary school teacher who dresses in white all the time and who's married to a vain, preening, Charles Bukowski reading, male model Paul, played by Sagamore Stevenin - who won't be intimate with her, despite her overt advances. So she looks for intimacy in ever, increasingly extreme encounters while her husband dances badly with other women in bland, unimpressive, French, coastal town nightclubs.
She picks up Paolo in a bar one night - played by real life Italian adult movie actor Rocco Siffredi - who is only interested in sex. This leads her to BDSM encounters with Robert, the head teacher where she works, played by The Transporter's Francois Berleand, who has supposedly spent time with 10,000 women and feels the need to play a radio show stating this fact before he introduces Marie to the world of being tied up. It also leads her to a horrific experience with male street walker that could be classed as rape.
Marie, played by Ducey, is a spiritually and mentally lost woman who desires love. As she doesn't even feel loved by her own husband, she resorts to being used by equally messed up men. She doesn't look at those she beds in any real sense, she'd rather regale the audience with her thoughts through an arty, pretentious voice-over - although there is one time she breaks down in tears because she has an actual, human reaction to a situation involving S&M.
The female lead, who at the time when she was cast hadn't appeared in many films, while she does perform in some of the sex scenes the filmmakers also clever used body doubles in some scenes. According to the director, in the extras on this Second Sight release, the female wasn't all that pretty and, while promoting the movie, was thrown out of a press conference by Breillet.
At the time of its 1999 release, Romance caused a stir with audiences and with British Board of Film classification for its extreme sexual content and close up footage of childbirth. The latter was an "interesting" directing choice which follows a tradition of shock cinematic benchmarks of Last Tango in Paris, the work of Just Jackin and Baise Moi, which would follow Romance several years later. Looking at the film now, 20 years on, the subject matter has been somewhat normalised by the fact we now live in a world where the same type of material is just a click away or BDSM is joked about in mainstream culture thanks to the cultural impact of books like 50 Shades of Grey.
It's the type of film that could be read in many different ways according to the individual viewer and I'll leave it to those, who may want to watch the film after reading this review, to form their own opinions. On a technical level the film isn't particularly flashy in terms of its camera work or editing choices - much like the flat the couple live in which is many shades of white but no grey. Shockingly, due to the lack of love in their marriage, Paul meets a sticky ending.
This movie arrives on an uncut Blu Ray for the first time in the UK from Second Sight which has been scanned and restored for this release. It’s looking good for a 20 year old film shot on 35mm film and the’ve done great work on the audio track. It may only upset people's sensibilities rather than their eyes or ears while checking it out.
The highlight of this release is the three 15 minute plus interviews with director Catherine Breillet, lead actress Caroline Ducey and producer Jean Francois Lepetit. They all talk about the experience of working on the film in interesting, combative ways while defending what type of movie Romance really is.
Romance is far from being a mainstream movie and more one that's likely to be viewed by people who want to see what all the fuss was all those years ago.
Romance is available on Blu-ray now from Second Sight Films.