Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Bluebeard (Barbe Bleue)

Bluebeard (Barbe Blue). Directed and Written by Catherine Breiallat.

Preconceptions: I've been meaning to check out Breillat's work for a while now. I've read a bit about the cleverness, sexuality and feminism of her movies and wanted to see if they were up my alley or not. Given my out of proportion love for fantasy movies (and costume dramas), I figured watching Bluebeard would give Breillat a much fairer shake than something harder edged like Romance (which promises to be a dispassionate look at the limits of lust and degradation). Not that I'm a wimp or anything. Ahem.

General Review: Wowee-zowee, it has been a while since I've been able to dribble idiot praise for a director, but I think it's well earned here. Before I get into the deeper reasons for digging Breillat, can I mention that it was damned gorgeous to watch. The colour pallet was vivid, the use of light and shadow was beautiful and over all I haven't enjoyed seeing many movies in HD quite as much as I enjoyed this one.

The plot of the flick is that two young sisters have snuck up to the attic to mess around with the forbidden stuff up there. The younger sister, Catherine, reads her sister Anne the story of Bluebeard and we flash between the sisters in the attic and the sisters in the story. The retelling of the story is fairly true to Perrault's original, with a bit of snappy dialogue added for zest. All of the conversations between the sisters (both in the attic and in the story) hold that edge of love and rivalry that's easy to find in siblings (as well as being pretty funny). A final note on the writing, I might be reading my own particular set of theories and interests into this, but it also seemed like a thoughtful examination of what happens to children who aren't exposed to much in the way of cautionary tales.

But enough about the writing, lets get back to the directing. It was more than just visually appealing and competent-it was also beautifully conceived. Little understated choices like adding furniture from the attic into the castle in the story helped establish a real feeling of imagined setting. Particularly because these choices were understated, I was half way through the movie before I started actively noticing them. Other decisions, like having the girls imagine their story counter-part's appearance to be more like their sister, neatly underscored the sibling rivalry without needing to speak a word. Bluebeard was stuffed with excellent directoral moves like these, but never in a patronizing way. I felt like I was expected to keep up and if I didn't (and I'm sure I missed stuff) I could still enjoy the movie for its simple story and prettiness merits. I never felt like it was jumping up and down on my head telling me how clever it was (though it was extremely clever).

After going on and on about all of the things I liked, this seems like a nit picky thing to say but several characters go on and on about how Bluebeard's beard is....well, blue and that he hides the colour when going out on business. The times where its supposed to be blue, I just didn't see it. It still just looked black.

Oh right, there were actors in this and they have talents that are not just the director's skill. Dominique Thomas was excellent at portraying a character that was a gentle giant and a monster all at the same time. Daphne Baiwir and Marilou Lopes-Benites (the sisters in the attic) sold that they were children at play. Unfortunately, Lola Creton and Lola Giovannetti (the sisters in the story) weren't as natural as their real world counterparts and sometimes came off on the wooden side.

If you're looking for the usual sort of flick that I'm into (y'know with zombies and gunplay) you won't find much of that here (well, maybe just a tad). The action is fairly low key and it's mostly a thoughtful retelling of a fairy tale. It's also masterfully directed and a good test for your fancy new HD TV's.

Aside: One small caveat, Bluebeard is in French, so to be avoided if subtitles give you a headache. Or y'know, you can't read...which brings up the interesting question of how you're managing this site. Alright two small caveats, despite what I said about this being a fairy tale and kids needing more cautionary tales, you probably shouldn't show it to your kids.

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