Pros: the shocking scenes actually work in the context of the film.
Cons: the lead character, sexual politics, frequent tedium
Leave it to the French to make a movie like this! The French seem to have a knack for making movies about sex that are far more than mere soft-core parades, and now heres a movie about sex that is far more than a mere hard-core parade. Im talking about the film Romance, a film notorious for its scenes of genuine, hardcore sex normally found in the sorts of product found in the backroom of your video store, but which now are found in what appears very much like a typical, pretentious French art-house film. Anyone who has an aversion to any erect body part should not undertake in renting this film.
Lets be perverted and write down a laundry list of what you will see in this film. Theres oral sex (both male and female), theres the application of a condom on an erect penis (before the woman fondles it), theres a lengthy scene of intercourse which appears very much authentic, theres female masturbation, theres a shot in which a man inserts a finger into a womans vagina, removing it for us to see its secretions, and theres a genuine shot of ejaculation (the cum shot, as said in the porn business).
But..... this is not a XXX film. Really, it isnt......
Actually, what this film is, is a rather grim affair. Romance is interesting, but it surely isnt romantic, or, for the most part, even sexy. The story revolves around a woman (Caroline Ducey) who is sex-obsessed. For the first ten minutes of the film, she keeps prodding her odd boyfriend to have sex with her. This guy hasnt initiated sex during the six months of their relationship, and the woman is getting mighty restless. Their scene in bed together is bizarre. She discovers that, yes, her boyfriend is erect, but still wont have sex. It would be one thing if he were impotent... but hes holding back, for whatever reason.
All this mental anguish forces her to go off in search of some sex. She finds it, in the form of porn star Rocco Siffredi (!), and soon, they have a sex scene that is more graphic than anything in a mainstream film, although, interestingly enough, its also the only reasonably erotic scene in this film.
Later on, she finds herself in a relationship with the school headmaster (shes a teacher, and a bad one apparently; shes dyslexic, as we can see when she writes dictation for her students on the blackboard). The headmaster is a fairly revolting fellow. He brags to her that hes had 10,000 women, because he apparently knows the tricks to get women into his bed. But his thing isnt vanilla sex, but bondage. Oddly enough, the woman actually lets him get far with her, although later on the two share a supposedly tender moment, in which she cries because she thought she could take it, but found out that it was more extreme than she imagined.
Developments arise both in the womans relationship with the headmaster, and with her boyfriend, which culminate in a wacky, melodramatic ending, that is quite strange, and troublesome, but is definitely an eye-catching way to end this film.
I really dont know how Caroline Ducey did it. How could someone, who is by all accounts, a respectable actress (although far from a famous one), agree to do this movie? I couldnt help thinking to myself that she didnt enjoy herself during this shoot (and from all accounts, she didnt). Certainly, she doesnt appear lively or sexual; shes kind of morose. Is that deliberate or is she really not having a good time??? Somehow, I wouldnt imagine having much of a good time if people were violating me, even if it is only acting.
I guess the reason I feel that way is because of the nature of the film itself. This isnt some hot, steamy romance. Most of this film is either negative, or ugly. The only scene that is even remotely sexy is, interestingly enough, the scene with Rocco, as it is an intimate scene in many ways. The two talk about sexuality, as they have sex, which is certainly more colorful than some standard gratuitous sex scene.
All the other scenes involve some sort of degradation. Theres a scene in which the woman, for some stupid reason, accepts a perverts offer to give her oral sex for twenty bucks. Of course, this is a scam; he rapes her fully without paying her. And then of course, theres the sadomasochist material. I absolutely do not find this even remotely erotic. Its one thing if its just silly role-playing, but the sight of the man tying her up, and binding her into some really uncomfortable positions bring a mix of laughter and horror to me.
And the overall message is rather backward, considering that this film was directed by a woman (Catherine Breillat). From what I can gather, the point of this film is that the the S&M relationship is the most pure relationship... as the players know the score. The woman is the submissive, the man is the controller. Of course, this is how it goes with most of her other encounters, and not just the rape scene. The fact that her boyfriend withholds sex from her, while she goes crazy, seems to be some sort of sadomasochist relationship as well, but the difference is that the male tries to paper it over with talk about how sex is not important in a relationship, and actions that seem calculated to psychologically humiliate her.
There is also a scene where she masturbates, in which, as she describes in the narration, she does so with her legs closed tightly, to make it feel as if shes raping herself... then says it shows that she doesnt need a man to do this for her. Gosh, how loving!! Theres also a fantasy sequence which involves men only seeing, and screwing, the lower parts of a womens body (this is where the ejaculation shot comes in).
The film itself does suffer from some tedium. Theres an overabundance of narration, and these lenghty scenes only show that the story itself isnt too terribly complex. As well, some people will not like the main character. She is geniuenly crazy! I accepted that this was just a character, who is not neccassarily meant to be a role model, but merely a device created by the director so she could express many ideas on sexuality.
While I did have some problems with the film, Ill still give this a positive rating. The sexual politics are problematic, but , hey , this is just a story, and at least the fact that this movie actually deals with sexuality -- even if in a negative, ugly way -- makes this film legit; its not just a film with hardcore in it. Romance isnt a great film by any means, but it is interesting to watch, even if its just for the notoriety. Now if only someone could make a really steamy film that was actually erotic and romantic, that would make my day......