on February 8, 2000
As you may or may not know, here in the UK we're not allowed toshow scenes of "hardcore" pornography, on the grounds thatthey're titillating and corrupting. For the first time in history, the censors have let a film contain such scenes, and that film is Romance.
The point is, of course, that the scenes aren't titillating- in fact, they are quite horrifying in places. The whole film is a journey into the dark side of female sexuality, and (speaking as a heterosexual male) it can become highly disturbing.
The plot, briefly: our heroine (?) is told that her boyfriend loves her but doesn't want to have sex with her. In emotional turmoil, she has a series of sexual encounters, increasingly degrading and bizarre, as she tries to find a link between her twin needs for sexual satisfaction and emotional fulfilment.
Excellent cinematography and a bleak script; by far the best film I saw last year, and probably the best I'll see again this year.
on February 10, 2000
The words of Emmanuelle Beart (referring to her nude scenes in La Belle Noiseuse) came back to me as I watched Romance: "I wasn't baring my ass, I was baring my soul."
So it is for Romance, a drama that has been called everything from "sexiest movie ever made" to "pornography". And on a strictly technical viewpoint, the terms apply -- with graphic depictions of fellatio, copulation, childbirth and all manners of sexual behaviour both conventional and alternative, Romance walks the fragile line between art and exploitation.
What makes this film a great story instead of a series of sex scenes is its emotional approach. Director Catherine Breillat, who explored the subject of teenage sexuality in 36 Fillette with frankness and earnesty, applies the same approach to the sexual frustrations depicted in Romance. The graphic nudity, then, becomes not exploitation but attention to detail, and Breillat's choice of covering scenes with a series of sequence shots (the average running time of singular shots in this film is in minutes, not seconds) gives this film a painfully immediate, real-time feel. The use of long takes without cuts could not have been easy given the graphic sexual acts the actors have to simulate in the film. And the sequence shots are highly appropriate to the performances, capturing the actors' every beat. Caroline Ducey gives a brave performance as Marie, the frustrated teacher who tries to rediscover sex within a stifling relationship. The pressure of the graphic scenes and the character's staggering vulnerability give her performance a charge, and it is to Ducey's credit that her character's heart says much more than her oft-displayed body. By the end of the film the ironic, seemingly exploitative slug line comes true: "Love is desolate, romance is temporary, sex is forever". The final sequence of the film actually proves this to be a sincere statement in a sly, but also emotive way.
This film could never have been made on American soil -- pointing to the cultural difference between the Gallic and American film scenes. From this difference also comes explanation of why Romance, despite its sincerity and the depth of the characters, was received with such outrage here. In France, nudity has been naturalized -- it is no longer a shock to see frontal nudity and frank depictions of sex. In America, on the other hand, onscreen nudity is considered a special occasion, the "last resort". It is quite frankly unimaginable to me that an American actress would have consented to doing what Ducey does here -- the eternal question being "What can we get away with?" Well, sometimes you can't think in terms of what you can "get away with". Breillat and Ducey, by opting to expose the character as they must for her to come alive, make the question moot. Imagine Romance as an airbrushed Hollywood product, with artfully executed Nicolas Roeg-style montages and dissolves for the sex scenes, and the story will fall apart. Really, which is more exploitative: The painfully emotional scene in which Marie tries to get her boyfriend to desire her, or that bathtub scene in The English Patient, where a cut was specifically made so that the audience can see a naked Kristin Scott-Thomas rise from the tub from the front?
All sociological comments, aside, Romance is a searing drama on relationships and sexuality, unwavering in its integrity, and challenging in its approach both to the audience and to the actors. Its greatest strength lies not in whether it's "sexy" or not -- but in its close, intimate examination of matters of the heart.
on December 19, 1999
This is the psychological journey of a passionate woman whose lover refuses her any form of physical pleasure. Because of her emotional ties to him, and her hesitance to leave him only because of sex, she persues a twisted series of sexual affairs in search of some relief for her desire. The movie makes phenomenal observations about women, who according to the main character, wish to live with the top half of their bodies near their loved ones in a picturesque romance world, and the lower half in the dark corners of wild sexual freedom. This is the first movie I have ever seen that addresses the dark natures of woman's sexuality without degrading or pitying her. Plus, the film is well made, the plot is interesting, and it will leave you feeling quite differently about the way you treat your woman.
on October 15, 2002
Do NOT buy the VHS version of this film if you want to see the film that Catherine Breillat intended to make. It is cut, edited, in other words, censored. It's not just that the graphic sex scenes are cut and that much can be left to the imagination; it's that the cuts eviscerate the film. Breillat made the film in anger, and her anger is most evident in the explicit sexual scenes that were cut. What's left is drivel.I plan to ship it back for a refund.
on August 6, 2002
I saw this movie at a film festival, and it was intended to drive home a point by shocking the viewer. A woman is upset by the lack of love she is recieving from her boyfriend so she looks elsewhere, and gets herself into a few uncomfortable situations. There are some graphic sex scenes which are a little bit unsettling.
The version available here is so heavily edited (an entire scene that is crucial to the plot is missing, and others are zoomed in to avoid nudity) that you will fail to see the point the film is trying to make. Skip it.
on December 24, 2004
This movie is fascinating because it forces you to completely reanalyze your view of sex, however it usually manages to at least slightly traumatize most people that watch it. I've seen quite a few movies and this is one of the only ones I've watched thats really made me uncomfortable. There is a lot of sex in the movie and it is presented in such a way that you're not meant to find it pleasurable. Pay attention to the color scheme: red, white, and black. Why do you think that it's like that? What does this mean in the context of the movie? Prepare to be disturbed while you follow a nymphomaniac school teacher on a strange sexual adventure.
on July 24, 2001
I think some of the other reviewers who have written above were disappointed because they just didn't get the point of the film. The movie is clearly not supposed to be erotic, sexy, or exaltant of sexuality. This film is about some the dark, desperate, and cruel aspect of female sexuality. The sex in the film is not gratuitous, but neither does it stop at any boundaries. I felt like this movie showed all the scenes that are not shown in every other movie about sex but that one knows the director wanted to. This movie, is honest, and and insofar as it is honest, it also disturbing, because it's topic is not pleasant. Frankly, I don't think any male could every truly relate to the main character or the things she does, but I think it does us good to see a part of femininity that is often swept under the rug. You may not "enjoy" watching this film, but male or female, I reccomend it.
on March 27, 2002
This is quite a depressing movie, i've got to say. The title "Romance" is an almost humorous irony, especially after having seen the film: being that I cannot really describe what the movie is REALLY about, I will have to leave it up to you, the movie-watching audience, to decide for yourself. My under-qualified interpretation is that it is a tale about a fairly average woman who, suffocating in a sex-less and purposeless relationship with her boyfriend, goes on some kind of sexual and emotional pilgrimage....all in all, the movie's focus is on sex, emotions, and inner conflict: it's seen from a very psychological standpoint. There is very little information on the people themselves, and you are often left wondering how events get from point A to point B.
This is a quite graphic film, at least for a movie that is readily available not as pornography or even shock art, but as an independent film. There are a lot of bare organs and naked parts, so be warned. I wouldn't really call the movie pornographic, and here's why: there's no sex in this film. While there may be scenes with sexual content, the manner in which the main character portrays herself as disinterested and actually miserable during the love-making process, leaves me to feel that this is merely an artistic portray of sex as a form of punishment and self-loathing, for the way in which the woman in the film pursues literal strangers and engages in cold and purposeless intercourse, is, in my opinion, not at all what I would call sex. Sex, to me, is an emotional, energetic, enlightening experience, something to be enjoyed. The main character is actually seeking out to torture, punish, destroy herself, by engaging in random sex acts, as well as various bondage scenes. This is not erotic at all: it is frightening, even horrifying at times. What i'm getting at is that this movie is very depraved and often depressing to a great point.
The main character is, in my opinion, the least appealing of the film. She's just so....drab, gloomy, and saddening. The older man in the film is an interesting guy, mainly because he portrays himself as 'the ugly guy who gets all of the chicks by being smooth', full of lines about his sexual conquests and about basically everything else he can get in, yet can also be warm and considerate. The boyfriend is basically a jerk who thinks too highly of himself, and yet thinks that he knows everything there is to know about women, while ironically he is the purpose that his lover is so frustrated, because he DOESNT understand her at all.
About the scenes: the shots are long, brooding, often without dialog, and there's one scene in particular, where the woman is tied up, and is drowning in a state of misery, which you can see in her sad and defeated eyes. I was shocked and disturbed through-out much of the film.
The translation and the subtitles are perhaps the worst feature, if you don't include the fact that the DVD has absolutely no extras whatsoever (unless you consider that the disc itself is the 'directors cut', which I don't think of as an extra, but a necessity). The dubbing itself is fine, the main character's voice actor is quite good, while some of the male 'partners' voices are a little on the stupid side, perhaps from the ridiculous lines that they utter. The most bothersome feature is that the subtitles are almost completely different than what is being spoken.
All in all, it is a deep film, without the characters themselves really being very deep: the subject matter, the thoughts and feelings portrayed not through words but through gestures....it's quite an artsy film. I'd say, if you are into movies which leave you feeling reeled-over from shock and disgust, but also to a degree enlightened, i'd say go for it. Again, I warn you that there is a lot of nudity in the film, as well as strong language.
on September 11, 2004
This was one of the most breath taking and disturbing films I have ever watched. After turning off the television I sat motionless for 10 min or so. I would recommend it to everyone I know who can handle complexity of the human psyche in all of its ugliness and honesty. Perhaps the most daring of directors and one of the most brutally honest and sophisticated scripts I have ever viewed. Perhaps one of the best films I have ever watched. Never have I seen human emotion captured on camera as raw as Romance has, simply amazing.
on March 27, 2000
Explicit but not exploitative. Sex but not pornography. At lot has been said about the ground breaking aspects of this film (but they said the same about Basic Instinct) but I found the most disturbing scene to be the internal examinations by the doctor and the medical students when she becomes pregnant.
The story is total allegory and covers themes as diverse as rape-fantasy and intimacy, our general attitudes to sex and our specific nuances when it comes to fulfilling our partner's needs.
I have not felt as uncomfortable watching a film since Blue Velvet, nor have I felt as intrigued. Is this aimed at women audiences? Perhaps, but I cannot imagine anyone empathizing with the main character. And if you are expecting a pornfest, you are going to be really disppointed.
Is there a point to this movie? Maybe an ethereal one about what women really need from men in relationships (and perhaps the message that the Black Widow spider and the Preying Mantis may have got it right in killing their partner after mating).
Is this worth buying? Well if you collect continental art films (such as Man Bites Dog, Manon des Sources and The Hairdressers Husband) you will be used to the feel of such movies and this will make a welcome addition. Otherwise hire it and make your own mind up.