by Greg Muskewitz
Don't mistake the four-star rating I gave this movie as 'high praise' --in this case I'm following in accordance to what the 'definition' of the stars is equivalent to, and "Romance" is more than just average. It's audacious, unsexy, erotique, and often a breath taker. But to say the least, it is a brave(r) film compared to most.I don't remember her name being mentioned throughout the film until you saw it in the credits, but Marie (Caroline Trusselard), the most generic female name in French films, though in no way the generic character, is seen standing on the sidelines of a photoshoot where the matador-esque model turns out to be her boyfriend (Paul, as played by Sagamore Stévenin).
"You might be surprised to know that this is a woman's movie!"
She cries a little bit as they converse of their lunch, but their talk mostly consists of why they're still together when there is no physical relationship. Apparently, she's ridden Paul so many times that he gone impotent --he really can't get it up. His plan is to wait three months between each act of intercourse, and comforts Marie by telling her that he had always made most girls in the past wait six months (impotence, and lack of 'juices' you might say; gives a new value to "saving it up!").
She believes that for a man to respect her, or any woman for that matter, he must make love to her. It is dishonor and lacking respect if he "does not fuck her." Much of the movie consists of her rationalization and support of these statements. Later on that evening as they're settling in for bed, she requests him to take off his shirt (man, this guy really doesn't deserve her!) and he gives her hell for that as well. She continues to advance, and this being still before the ten-minute mark, reaches into his boxers and pulls out his (limp)penis, and begins to admisinster oral sex. You see the contact, it's more than real, and the camera is extremely intrusive bringing you to the action. Whether that's good or not (most likely not), it's unabashedly frank.
Marie's only retort to her blasting shun by Paul is that he doesn't deserve her, and that she should cheat on him, especially since knowing he would be unable to considering his situation. Within the next night or two, she does just that, and picks of a guy in a bar. His name is Paolo (Rocco Siffredi, an Italian porn star), and they go out into her car and grope each other the way you would have liked to see Tom and Nicole do it in "Eyes Wide Shut." We learn that his wife or girlfriend was killed in a car accident, and it's been something like four months or so since he's 'done it.' They decide to met later that night at his house to 'fuck.'
They do, and again we see --it all. We see everything from carressing each other completely naked, to her putting on his condom and getting him up, to the actual act of sex, ending in his climax. The sex was real, which qualifies it to be branded as porn, but the movie is so much more beyond a porno film, as it actually deals with the characters, story, and even Marie's motivation for sex. She more than adeptly explains in her narration why she takes it the ways she does.
Throughout the course of the film, she's additionally tied up, spread apart, she's raped (but never feels angry about it), has oral sex performed on her, she masturbates, it screwed, and is fingered as well. Trousselard is a trooper for lack of a better word, and is very brave to subject herself to something so revealing, demanding, and physically forceful. Like I said before, some will look at this simply as a porno, but what makes this more than just a monotonous sexual-fantasy movie, is the development and ideas in the movie. That's why I referred to it as a woman's film; here you have an unfulfilled woman with an unquenchable desire to be pleased. She wants to be loved, mentally loved, yet at the same time sexually pleased --it's not that hard to understand or identify with. There was a scene where Trousselard lays with her midriff being divided by a guillotine like contraption. On one side, her top half, it looks like a birth ward as she holds her lovers hand entrancingly. On the bottom half, it looks like a hellish pit, where men with hard ons browze around choosing which vagina they want. Again, all of this is shown, and you see as men interchangably use her, and change off to give another a turn.
What "Romance" reminded me of most was more of a modern retelling and modernized "Madame Bovary," the old Gustave Flaubert novel. (AKA Madame Ovary). The French are quite flamboyant about sex, but never before to my knowledge have they gone this far. I liked it for its audacity, and even though much of the sex was unsexy and unsettling, it contained its mystique of arousement and erotique. I applaud director Catherine Breillat for not compromising her artisitc vision. You may see me compliment directors on that a lot, but that's because in many instances the directors sell themselves out, they settle for less, and they ultimately compromise the story they set out to tell.
It would take a female director to be able to handle the subject matter and idealistics, and pull it off in the manner she did, especially without turning it into nothing but a 'fuckfest.' Male directors are too afraid to go the whole way with male nudity and sex. They go chinsy, and exploit (though that's not always the case) the female characters and their bodies. Even with Mike Figgis' "The Loss of Sexual Innocence," though he might have had a little male nudity, he focused much more on the female's anatomy. But sometimes even woman directors take on too much and become too ambitious like Agnes Merlet did a couple years ago with "Artemisia."
"Romance" was brave, and the story and interaction and development of it all add to the effect of it as a cinematic experience as opposed to a ponographic one. Trousselard will probably receive flack from this in the future, but she's uncompromising and bold. The same stands for Breillat, for whom without this would have been nothing less than a catsatrophe.Final Verdict: B
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=2218&reviewer=172
originally posted: 12/04/99 04:42:11