Catherine Breillat’s Cine-erotic Anti-Romance: Visualizing the Extremities of Desire
Studies in Visual Arts and Communication – an international journal / June 2014 1(1)
Working contiguously with the tradition of feminist explicit body performance art and within the contours of the newly named movement of French cinema dubbed “Cinema du corps,” or the “New French Extremity,” Catherine Breillat has been teasing daringly the slippery, porous, and much-contested borders separating art from pornography throughout her entire, almost forty-year, filmmaking career. Her “erofilms” are visually and performatively allied with a politically motivated, contemporaneous tendency in the visual arts: the proliferation of female-authored visual images featuring the (female) body nude and sexual. Breillat’s self-conscious—albeit extremely controversial—engagement with and representation of nudity, unflinching eroticism, and sexual frankness in films such as Romance X (Romance) (1999) seeks to strategically break down artistic and bodily protocols, claiming the right to self-representation for women and attempting to expose the omissions and absences perpetrated within and by the dominant, male-authored visual tradition. Strongly inflected by her intellectual, aesthetic, and feminist sensibilities, Romance X, Breillat’s challenging filmic tale, manifests the filmmaker’s firm intention to visually explore the, often, unarticulated and unrepresented aspects of female desire, female sexual experience, and female-male relations. In this film, the first of three films in which she addresses female sexuality in unprecedentedly explicit terms, Breillat engages the female erotic/sexual nude and recreates it outside of the patriarchal visual vocabulary in order to present a self-contained, self-defined, pleasured female-identified erotic integration, and, eventually, liberation. By adapting and subverting both experimental film traditions and mainstream porn tactics, Breillat manages to unsettle authoritative presumptions underpinning the erotic image in these two representational domains. The power of her cine-erotic fable lies in its ability to provide a conduit into the dominant, masculinist-inflected culturescape (or “imagescape”), allowing her cinematic vision—highly distinctive if not radically new—to function correctively on it, without, however, exhibiting the pedantic affectations of other (feminist) avant-garde filmmakers.
Catherine Breillat, Romance, erotic, visual tradition, feminism