With Bluebeard, Catherine Breillat—perhaps the most willful feminist provocatrice in cinema today, whose stroke in 2004 made her even more determined to keep working—slyly subverts Charles Perrault's gruesome fairy tale about a young bride married to an aristocrat who has murdered his previous wives. Of the many adaptations of Perrault's 1697 story showing at Anthology's "Bluebeard on Film" series this week, Breillat's version is the most personal: By inserting semiautobiographical scenes of two sisters in the 1950s who are fascinated with this grisly narrative, she creates a clever framing device to explicate a 300-year-old tale, itself a story involving two sisters. As the film toggles between the 17th and 20th centuries, the director makes keen observations about sibling rivalry, sexual curiosity, notions of purity and innocence, and the power of language and imagination. In town, last October for Bluebeard's New York Film Festival premiere, I met with Breillat, 61, to talk about sororal breakups, reconciliations, and Naomi Campbell.
What's your connection to Perrault's fairy tale?
I like that Bluebeard isn't an ogre or a giant—he's a man. It struck me that girls read this tale at a very young age: I myself read it when I was five. It's a story that teaches these little girls to love the man who's going to kill them.
Bluebeard is a story about the dangers of female curiosity, a theme that runs through many of your films. Must it always have such dire consequences?
In my film, the consequences are dire for him, not for her. In the past, we've had stories like Eve, who takes the apple of knowledge and tempts Adam to bite into it. So she's the one who's guilty—she's responsible. Here, it's he who's responsible. He's the one who holds the tiny key out to her. As a very young girl, I was drawn to the image of the [murdered] wives hanging in the room—I love this image of the eternally fresh blood that was like a mirror under them. That, to me, is a vision of the eternity of women.
There's more to read on the article page, but this was the most pertinent to SurLaLune. I previously posted about the film at La barbe bleu [Bluebeard] directed by Catherine Breillat (2009) and More about La barbe bleu.