Romance (1999)

“They sense you are getting away.”

Romance from director Catherine Breillat isn’t about romance at all–and while the film focuses on relationships between men and women, it’s clear that romance has no place at all in this tale. The main character in the film, Marie (Caroline Ducey), is a young schoolteacher who lives with vain, intellectual male model, Paul (Sagamore Stevenin). Paul has decided that his relationship with Marie is going through a new phase–celibacy. Now Paul offers only a vague explanation why this phase has begun, but Marie, who is insecure, decides that she no longer arouses Paul. This leads Marie to cause a few desperate scenes both in public and in private. The more Paul rebuffs her, the needier she becomes. Marie clings and Paul shrugs her off. Marie decides that if Paul refuses to satisfy her, then she’ll find someone else who will. It really doesn’t take Marie long to attract men, and so an odyssey of experience begins.

Paul is really a rather revolting character, and his gratuitious cruelty doled out casually enough to throw Marie off the scent establishes him as the power figure in the relationship. Marie is maintained in the inferior position–always trying to second guess Paul’s actions and grateful when she’s allowed a caress. Even the affairs she indulges in are conducted so obviously in the vain hope that Paul will make the connection. Marie really is without a clue here. Paul simply doesn’t care–he is too busy loving himself that he can’t spare one ounce of emotion for her. Unfortunately, Marie interprets Paul’s lack of interest personally, and she descends into some rather needy behaviour.

Caroline Ducey is marvellous in this role. She carries an edge of neediness and hysteria, and yet her dark eyes are pools of secrets and silence. Her relationship with Robert (Francois Berleand) explores the limits of her morality, and their relationship–based on trust, exploration, and equality–is in stark contrast to the humiliating relationship Marie shares with Paul.

I really loved this film for the bold statement it makes about relationships. If the power within a relationship is unequal, it will become increasingly more so for the powerless partner–who will grow unhappier and needier, and I see Marie’s actions as an attempt to balance the power. I can’t remember seeing a film that illustrated this concept quite so effectively.


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