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ROMANCE

SYNOPSIS:
Marie (Caroline Ducey) and Paul (Sagamore Stevenin) have been dating for several months. Marie is desperately in love but Paul has lost all sexual interest in her, explaining that this has always been his way in relationships. Failing in her attempts to seduce him, Marie engages in a one night stand and finds her libido and sexual imagination aroused. Further sexual forays lead her into S+M and a rough sex encounter bordering on rape. Awakened by these experiences Marie plots her revenge on the indifferent Paul.

"Apart from being the film which provided a field day for the press by exposing some rather questionable procedures within the Office Of Film and Literature Classification, Romance is a riveting foray into the female sexual condition. We hear a lot about female empowerment on screen and Romance gains its strength by treating this idea as more than an easy justification for female aggression and exploring what empowerment really amounts to in its most primitive state. It does that in theme and by action: yes, there are a handful of scenes previously the exclusive domain of mail order catalogues from Canberra or the Northern Territory but if it's titillation you're after look elsewhere. Most of the graphic sex is of the distinctly non-erotic type and is used by Breillat to ultimately shift the balance of power into the hands of her female protagonist. The transformation of mousy and maudlin Marie into a woman with the will to guide her destiny is a startling one because it is achieved by her own desire and free choice. The pleasure, pain and even degradation of Marie's odyssey is charted with amazing frankness and a deliberate intent to create unease - more by what is spoken before and after the sexual episodes than by the acts themselves. This is rich, provocative drama which deserves an audience and, thanks to the Australian censors, now has one."
Richard Kuipers

"We meet Marie and Paul amidst a heated confrontation over the fact he won't screw her anymore. Later, as Marie narrates her thoughts, we learn she loves and hates Paul in equal measure - complex feelings we can understand. But that's about as much as we learn about this hollow, manufactured relationship. We never discover Paul's motivation, or indeed, anything much about Paul, which, since this is the trigger for the film's main plot line of Marie's sexual experiments, is a serious omission. Paul is a cardboard creation of a feminist filmmaker's view of a dickhead male. Marie's love for him is stated but never shown except as sexual expression (fallacio attempt, Nos 1 and 2). This is not surprising; we see nothing of Paul that is likeable, let alone loveable. Hell, we see nothing much of him except his dancing and his penis. Marie is not much more multi dimensional, either. Some see this is a valid device for a film exploring sexual powerplay in a serious manner. But to me, this critical weak point, coupled with the fact that every conversation in the film is purely about sex - at arms length, as it were, from romance - affects the film's viability. I am not at all sure what Catherine Breillat really intends. Romance is about a lot of sexual things, but feminist empowerment is not one of them. Nor do I agree with the majority of critics (some on this page included) who see the film as a robust tour of female sexuality. I see Romance, complete with the overstated irony of the title, as a confused journey around the abstract of sexuality, as opposed to sexuality itself. By giving Marie an introspective (and sometimes pretentious) narrator's voice, for example, Breillat lifts the graphic sexual activity on camera from porn to arthouse, but does nothing to put it in the context of either Marie's overall life or of ours. Without context, there is no truth. "For me romance is the illusion of love," explains Breillat. Hence the title, but she seems confused about the role of sex in that illusion. She wants to show us sex without the illusion of romance, but porn already does that. Ironically, she has made a film that gives the illusion of being a serious exploration of sex. The best part of Romance is the wry humour and credible insight into S&M; Francois Berleand, playing a teacher at Marie's school, is the best drawn character in the film, making Marie's excursion into this taboo area the only genuine element in the film. He is also the only character who has any tangible humanity. Yet it is he, not Marie, who embodies the absence of romance or illusion - and has something to say about sexuality in the process. "
Andrew L. Urban

"Romance is a strangely dispassionate work of contradictions, whose controversy and bravura is the mainstay of its substance. Catherine Breillat has focused on the shock value of exposing male and female genitalia in graphic sexual activity. I think Breillat must hate men everything about the script points to that. Men are portrayed as wimps, sex maniacs, perverts and wankers all in stereotype form: these characters in the context of the story are hardly believable. The central role of Marie, however, has more believability a curious mix of confused vulnerability, fragility and insecurity. Marie is demanding, she seeks sexual fulfillment, but is at odds with how the physical desires and moral issues of self-respect fit together. Her obsession with sex is in part a love/hate relationship with herself mostly self-loathing. Why is it that it's the scumbags who understand us, she asks? Directed in a static, non erotic way, as if to allow us to witness events without the imprint of cinematic language or emotion, Breillat's thrust (pun intended) is for shock value. Too much. Some may call it brave others, including me, overkill. Perhaps Breillat is too close to her project. Be prepared for penises flaccid and gigantic, condoms, penetration from various angles, masturbation, oral sex and a display of S & M. But it's far from being a peep show, nor is it titillating: it's strident, heavy handed and dished out as a misguided feminist sexual statement. The sexual intensity of Romance can be compared to Head On, its promiscuous controversy to that of Breaking the Waves, its voyeurism to Eyes Wide Shut and its fantasy to that of Feeling Sexy. It is a film you elect to see, not to enjoy it, but to enjoy talking ABOUT it. There is a valid opinion to be made and expressed. It may not be a comfortable experience, but one worthy of discussion and debate."
Louise Keller

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 0

TRAILER

ROMANCE (R18+)
(France)

CAST: Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stevenin, Francois Berleand, Rocco Siffredi

DIRECTOR: Catherine Breillat

PRODUCER:Jean-Francois Lepetit

SCRIPT: Catherine Breillat

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yorgos Arvanitis

EDITOR: Agnes Guillemot

MUSIC: Raphael Tidas, D.J. Valentin

PRODUCTION DESIGN:

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential Films

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 2, 2000

VIDEO RELEASE: July 3, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Siren Entertainment







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