Director Catherine Breillat is (in)famous here in the UK for "Anatomy of Hell" which was an adaptation of her own novel ("Pornocratie"). It was one of, if not the, first films shown in UK mainstream cinemas to feature and erect male penis. It told a dark and troubling story of female sexuality, patriarchy and the nature of relationships. It's not one to watch on Christmas day with granny but it is interesting and it has something to say.
This time around Breillat takes the French fairy tale of Blue Beard which in and of itself is horribly disturbing and again manages to create a film that has something to say about grand themes...female sexuality, patriarchy and the nature of relationships again. She does so with an amazing cast of, primarily, child actors and, by the look of things, a miniscule budget.
The original story is simple and macabre; Blue Beard takes a local girl to be his latest bride. Several of his other wives have long since perished/disappeared. The girl agrees to be his wife in order to ease the financial woes of her family who have recently seen the father die. Once she is tucked up in Blue Beards castle it becomes clear that he genuinely cares for her and she develops feelings for him. When he leaves on business he hands her the keys to the castle and tells her that she can go anywhere, open any door...except one. The bride, of course, opens the door to find the rotting corpses of the previous wives and from there has to ensure that Blue Beard doesn't dispatch her in the same manner.
Breillat tells this story through the mouths of two modern day sisters who are reading the story from an old book in the attic of their home. As they read they stop to muse on what is happening and to discuss what love and marriage really mean. The two sisters here are the opposites of the bride in the tale and her sister. The fate that awaits one of them being the opposite of the fate that eventually befalls the bride in the tale.
This is the definition of an arthouse film but that shouldn't put you off looking out for it. It's a great story and the performances of the child actors are brilliant. Breillat isn't a director who is ever likely to be given the reigns of a Hollywood blockbuster and her own films don't lend themselves to big budget remakes...for that we should be thankful. Better a director with something to say than one with nothing to say and too much money with which to say it.