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Romance


By Jack Purdy | Posted

Romance has been boffo at the box office since opening in France earlier this year. It arrives in the U.S. unrated because American distributor Trimark Pictures surely knew that the Motion Picture Association of America had no rating in its arsenal that fit. Forget NC-17. Romance is more like NC-57—at age 51, I felt I wasn't mature enough to see it.

I mean, what can you say about a "mainstream" film that begins with fellatio and goes on show to a variety of erect penises, manual vaginal manipulation, anal intercourse, and finally, gynecological exams and childbirth? Well, what you can say is that Romance is definitely not a first-date movie, unless you are really sure of yourself. Also, be certain not to take Mom if she says, "Oh, a French movie called Romance. I'll bet it's like that darling Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

Actually, it's more like another Catherine Deneuve film, Belle de Jour, only way more graphic and totally lacking the surrealist artistry of Luis Buñuel. Writer/director Catherine Breillat posits a character named Marie (Caroline Ducey) who is desperately in love with a male model named Paul (Sagamore Stevenin). Their sex life together was fabulous for the first couple months, but now Paul won't touch her. Breillat never tells us why—Paul just seems to be the sort of narcissist who loves manipulating people.

So Marie, an elementary school teacher, embarks on a sexual odyssey, sort of like Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut except that she actually has sex—lots of it—and listens to men say things like, "Physical love is triviality clashing with the divine." There's also much talk of the mythical creatures Circe and Tantalus, and Paul is observed sitting alone in a restaurant reading Charles Bukowski. It's all very Gallic and meaningful.

But this trip through the labyrinth of female sexuality is ultimately just a celluloid version of an Olympia Press novel, those banned-in-America books that Maurice Girodias had writers churned out by the dozen in Paris in the 1950s—books with florid, neo-Victorian prose and titles such as With Open Mouth. It was porn, but porn with an arty French overlay. Just like Romance.

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