Maitresse (1976)

“I’m not the cautious type.”

In Barbet Schroeder’s kinkfest film Maitresse small-time burglar Olivier (Gerard Depardieu) stumbles into the dungeon of high-class dominatrix, Ariane (Bulle Ogier). He’s expecting to burgle an old lady’s apartment, but instead he finds rubber masks, whips, various torture devices, and even a coffin. He’s fascinated, and when rubber clad Ariane puts him to work, Olivier uses the opportunity as an excuse to strike up a relationship

Ariane–who lives with her Doberman, Texas–is a woman who enjoys her work. At one point, she even tells Olivier that she considers her clients to be her friends. Her facial expressions rarely change as she moves between clients–sometimes managing two or three at a time. She approaches her work with cold calculation, and the boorish Olivier cannot understand this, or her explanation: “all I do is direct the show.” He asks Ariane questions about her past, and her reply is: “you shouldn’t ask me questions because I either lie or I don’t answer them.” The film creates this unusual woman who defies every convention and every explanation, and then the audience is expected to swallow her need for a relationship with Olivier. The relationship between Ariane and Olivier just isn’t electric enough. They have a rather boring domestic arrangement which seems to include Olivier laying around her apartment and snooping through her personal papers while she whips the you-know-what out of a client in the dungeon. The relationship between Olivier and Ariane remains unconvincing.

Gerard Depardieu is always at his best when his explosive and overpowering personality is allowed to rampage a bit–he’s severely restrained in this film, and ultimately he appears sulky and a bit of a pouter. Olivier is consumed by Ariane’s professional life, and yet he remains outside it. At other moments, the kinky becomes the mundane. In one scene, he sits reading the newspaper while Ariane dresses in a bizarre tight rubber outfit for an appointment. Some of the very best scenes occur when the boundaries between Ariane’s private and professional lives mesh. Olivier simply does not understand that Ariane’s clients pay her for certain performances within very strict and, therefore, safe perimeters. Olivier carries some of the abuse beyond these agreed upon perimeters, and ultimately, Olivier is just bad for business.

Maitresse is at first an interesting film, but then it becomes fairly standard fare. Olivier happily takes the money Ariane earns, but then inevitably he takes the standard predictable route and tries to save Ariane. The film had potential, but the plot devolved to the ordinary and banal rather quickly, and this seems ironic as the whole film is supposed to be about the extraordinary.

Araine’s dungeon is a veritable den of iniquity, and Schroeder left nothing to the imagination when capitalizing on the shock effect of pure sensationalism. Viewers may find some of the scenes too difficult to watch. There’s male and female nudity galore here–and most of the S&M acts that I can think of are here on film. These acts range from the mildly naughty to the extremely painful. Obviously, this film is not for all tastes. If you enjoyed the films Crime of Passion or 9 1/2 Weeks you may enjoy this film. However, all viewers should be warned that the film contained one extremely graphic and hideous scene of the slaughter of a horse (Olivier wants to eat a horse steak and goes directly to the slughterhouse). I really wish I hadn’t see this as it’s impossible to forget the horse’s agony and terror.

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Filed under France, Gerard Depardieu

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