In 2009 Catherine Breillat decided to film Charles Perrault’s famous French folktale Barbe bleue (that’s Bluebeard en anglais). The classic fable was published by Perrault in Paris in 1697, but was set in 15th Century France. The story is about a wealthy French aristocrat who had a blue beard and a passion for young women, namely slitting their lovely throats. His modus operandi included marrying his innocent victims, live with them for a year or less and then kill them. I never really got this story, because I mean come on, why would you kill a beautiful young woman?
I remember reading this story in middle school during Italian class and of course it’s such a well known story I knew it even before that, but I never really got its appeal, until I watched this film. Maybe I was too young or maybe I just needed someone with a more florid fantasy to translate the story into images for me. Breillat’s mise en scène definitely works for me. Here are Five Reasons (because three weren’t simply enough) why I think Barbe bleue is a great film that you should check out. Since it’s five reasons and not three I’ll try to keep each reason a bit shorter than usual.
Reason I: A Catherine Breillat Fairy Tale
I guess it’s not that unexpected to see a period film from Catherine Breillat, who had directed The Last Mistress in 2007, but I would have never expected her adapting a fable. In the context of her oeuvre however it makes perfect sense, because Barbe bleue‘s story covers all the themes that she discusses in her other films: Loss of innocence (coming of age), sibling rivalry and sex. Where’s the sex? You might ask. Well, it’s subtle, but if you pay attention to it it’s all over the film, but especially in the ending, which is brilliant, but that’s Reason V.
Reason II: A Tale of Two Sisters
In a lot of ways Barbe bleue is about Breillat’s relationship with her sister. “Oh, please not another Fat Girl“. Well, as an auteur it makes sense that she would return to the same themes over an over. Something in her childhood clearly still bothers her. Breillat’s relationship with her sister is complicated, because on one hand she loves her (it’s her sister after all), but on the other hand she is jealous that she is prettier and her parents apparently gave her more attentions. In Barbe bleue the whole discourse is cleverly tied in with a narrative frame of two children discovering the fable.
Reason III: La Mise en Scène
Breillat’s attention for detail and her visual flair are evident in this film just like it is in her stories with a more contemporary setting. Every aspect of the mise en scène is absolutely delightful. Costume design, set decoration, production design, maquillage, photography and visual effects. I didn’t even know there were digital visual effects, which just speaks to how flawlessly they were integrated into the movie. It’s interesting how the texture of the film, the way it was shot and the film stock she used, still manage to make the film feel like a Catherine Breillat film even though the setting is unusual.
Reason IV: Lola Créton
Do I really need to explain this one? Yes? Okay. Well, Lola Créton is absolutely gorgeous. I know you’re supposed to say she’s very talented first, but I don’t care. Film is about beauty as well and she certainly is beautiful. So beautiful in fact that Breillat decides that some shots should be just of her lovely face. That being said she really is a great actress, portraying the character of Bluebeard’s wife with great pathos, but also lots of contradictions, depth and complexity. In a lot of ways the success and credibility of the film depends on her and she definitely sells it.
Reason V: The Last Shot
Once again the reason why the ending works so well is Lola Créton, but I just mentioned her. It’s a great shot, fantastic composition, very poetic. It starts with a score accompanying the scene, but then ends in complete silence, which makes it all the more powerful and breathtaking. It’s also quite unexpected and sudden, but in the best possible way. It’s incredibly effective. I also like it because it’s Créton’s character succeeds and defeats this horrible monster, which could also be seen as a triumph for women over men in general. The way she wins is by using her sexuality and it works like a charm.
Bonus: I have a theory about Bluebeard‘s blue beard. In the film I like that they chose not to make it some bright blue or cartoony blue, but chose to go with a dark blue. Sometimes you can’t even see that it’s blue. My theory is that in Barbe bleue, Bluebeard’s blue beard turns blue when he kills his victims. I base this theory on the fact that when he leaves his wife for his “business trips” his beard is almost black, but when he returns it’s blue again. Also when Bluebeard first meets Créton’s character the blue is already fading, indicating that he needs a new wife so he can quench his thirst for blood.