Romancing The Breillat

Several critics have pointed out that if the film Romance had been made by a man and not the recognised French feminist Catherine Breillat, it would have been universally condemned as misogynistic. It is said that women audiences nod in recognition to statements about the film’s female agenda while the men are uncomfortable with this level of cynicism and alienation. A character in the film comments that women give themselves to perfect strangers, but “play hard-to-get for some poor wretch who loves them”, which is the sort of observation that no feminist will tolerate hearing from a man. Is that because it is not true, or because it is not a fearless feminist iconoclast saying it?

Furthermore, the female lead says that she doesn’t want to see the face of the man who is fucking her, she wants to be just a hole for him. What would be said about and done to a male director who made a woman say that?

Breillat’s vision is further exemplified by the infamous fantasy scene where women are divided in half by a wall, their top halves socialising and their bottom halves sticking out into a roomful of men like urinals, and being used in much the same spirit. Is this sequence then saying that women may regard the wayward desires of their nether regions as being separate from and opposed to their higher selves, just like men have been reporting for the last several thousand years? If not, just what is it saying?

The gangbang memoirs of the French publisher Catherine M. suggested that she, too, wanted to be just a hole and not to see the faces of the men fucking her. I should like to see these datapoints factored into the otherwise tediously uniform “discussions” of male stereotyping of women and of male-oriented pornography. Are they true datapoints about women, true datapoints only about intellectual Frenchwomen, or are Breillat and Catherine M. sending up male stereotyping by practising it themselves? The whole thing is beginning to remind me of the sketches where a discerning customer complains of the wine and the waiter replaces the label, whereupon the oenophile expresses great admiration for the vintage.

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