Catherine Breillat, hated movie director

Breillat's Anatomy of Hell

Anatomy of Hell by Catherine Breillat, starring Amira Cesar and Rocco Siffredi

Catherine Breillat, born July 13, 1948, is an independent and provocative French filmmaker, novelist and professor of cinema at the European Graduate School. Her controversial films focus on physical intimacy, gender conflict, and male domination of women.

Breillat suffered a stroke in 2004, but is fighting back to health and plans to make a movie entitled Bad Love starring supermodel Naomi Campbell.

In America and throughout the mainstream, an artist is a crowd-pleasing moneymaker.

Europe, particularly France, sees it differently. Artists are an elite outfit who refuse to conform, will not play by the rules, and produce for their own and art's sake, not to please the lowest common denominator or the market.

Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress

Catherine Breillat. [See Isabelle Huppert]

The Last Mistress

The Last Mistress. [See foreign movies]

Amira Casar

Amira Casar, star of Anatomy of Hell. [See Monika Treut movies]

Catherine Breillat, the provocative French movie director, is an extreme artist, even in the European tradition,pushing boundaries, upsetting audiences, and struggling to finance her projects.

All true artists are hated, says Breillat. Only conformists are ever adored.

I am the pariah of French cinema, she says. That can make things complicated for me: it is never easy to drum up a budget or to find a distributor for my films in France. Some people refuse even to read my scripts. But it also makes me very happy because hatred is invigorating.

In the United States, Breillat is panned by critics and ignored by audiences. Her 2003 feature Anatomy of Hell, which accused gay men of being woman haters, was ridiculed by almost every manstream critic.

Normally fair and polite Roger Ebert wrote, They talk. They speak as only the French can speak, as if it is not enough for a concept to be difficult, it must be impenetrable. No two real people in the history of mankind have ever spoken like this, save perhaps for some of Breillat's friends that even she gets bored by.

Britain's BBC was kinder, making the effort to penetrate Breillat's difficult and at times offensive movie: Anatomy of Hell is a stoically serious movie ... one of the most groundbreaking films in recent memory in terms of both [its] explicitness ... and its commitment to such an austere intellectual discourse.

(2007), a costume drama based on a novel by Jules Amedee Barbey d'Aurevilly and starring Asia Argento, is a Breillat movie most critics respect, and a number of them like.

Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune writes: The way Breillat photographs the androgynous, slim-hipped Fu'ad Ait Aatou (Ryno de Marigny) and the avid-eyed Argento (no one’s idea of androgynous), the director’s playing with our perceptions of gender and power and desire. Argento seizes each scene with both hands, adding surprising layers of feeling as she goes... you are getting a lesson in how to capture the essence of a time and place without falling prey to “period film acting.

Armand Whyte's opinion: In America we have been spoiled to believe that films must be accessible and entertaining. If they are not, it is always the director's fault, never the audience's.

Catherine Breillat slaps that notion hard in the face. Her movies anger, frustrate, annoy, bore, and perplex us with their explorations of the myriad ways men find to degrade and insult women, particularly their bodies.

Breillat is a brave and infuriating artist, in my mind much more gifted than the German Monika Treut. Breillat's work is worth the struggle even though it at times is like watching a filmed version of a doctoral thesis in women's studies.

By Armand Whyte