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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.66:1
  Languages
  • French: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • 4 Teaser trailer - Fat Girl, Betty Blue, Paris Texas & Show Me Love
  • Theatrical trailer
  • 1 Production notes - Australian Censorship Controversy Correspondence

Romance

Madman Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 98 mins . R . PAL

  Feature
Contract

It is often argued that controversial French director Catherine Breillat commits the sin of self-plagiarism, producing the same film ad nauseam, which are little more than variations of her “sacred” theme - the emotional angst which women experience as they embark on their sexual rites of passage. Although regarded as a surrealist remake of her second feature film, 1979’s Tapage Nocturne (Night Noises), Romance aspires to be more than just a pale imitation of Breillat’s previous works; Romance is a polished, blistering social commentary on the “devious conflict” between the sexes, and is distinguished with the dubious honour as being the most sexually explicit mainstream film released to date.

Certainly, foreign cinema is no stranger to confrontational depictions of high-level sexual activity. Indeed, there are numerous noteworthy examples, including Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris, Nagisa Oshima’s In The Realm of the Senses and, perhaps most infamously, Marco Bellocchio’s Devil in the Flesh. In the latter film, Dutch beauty Maruschka Detmers reportedly became the first mainstream actress to be involved in a pornographic scene by performing an act of fellatio on co-star Fedrico Pitzalis.

Although not as graphic as Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, Romance is significantly more explicit than any of its European counterparts with its intense portrayals of sadomasochism, bondage, fellatio, cunnilingus, masturbation, penetrative sexual intercourse and male ejaculation. In addition, there are copious amounts of full-frontal nudity featuring male and female genitalia in various states of arousal. Despite the fact that the sex scenes are not simulated - and are, therefore, real - there is no evidence to suggest that the sexual activity in Romance is gratuitous and contains pornographic content. Indeed, Breillat’s clinical, non-judgmental approach to Romance’s much-lauded sex scenes - combined with its heroine’s emotional plight - ensure that these episodes are devoid of any real titillation.

Despite protests from Romance’s distributor, Potential Films, the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification - declaring the film to be pornographic and exceeding the limitations imposed on traditional R-rated material - refused to classify the film. Thus, Romance was initially banned; but, in an unexpected move, the Classification Review Board determined that the film was not offensive and overturned the original decision, citing that adults possess the right to view and hear what they wish.

Influenced by the literary works of de Sade and Lautreamont, Breillat has always been something of an infante terrible. A devout feminist armed with a fierce intellect, she seems, at times, to delight in assaulting the boundaries of what is deemed socially acceptable. Since 1968, she has built a formidable volume of artistic work, consisting of six novels and seven uncompromising feature films that she has both written and directed - including 1987's 36 Fillette, 1991's Sale comme un ange, and 1996's Parfait Amour!.

Breillat has also been an occasional actress, participating in several films - most notably, Last Tango in Paris and Dracula et Fils.

In 1968, the publication of her first novel, the semi-autobiographical “L’Homme facile” was viciously attacked by moral groups on the basis of its sexually explicit nature; subsequently, it was soon banned. Nearly ten years later in 1976, Breillat’s directorial debut, the film Une Vrai Jeune Fille - which features a teenage girl graphically exploring the boundaries of her burgeoning sexuality - received similar treatment at the hands of the censors.

In the process, Breillat has acquired a reputation as a fearless director, who uses the theme of human sexuality as a device to expose the lies and inadequacies of the relationship between men and women. With Romance, she suggests that the sexes are locked into an interminable battle for individual acceptance and understanding. Breillat evidently does not share the suggestions of fellow feminist Andrea Dworkin who adamantly stipulates that the sexual act is yet another weapon men use in order to subjugate women.

According to Breillat, a woman is truly beaten only when she tolerates men who are unwilling to share the intimacy and care she needs. However, only when a woman takes the decisive action to segregate herself from her reliance on restrained, emotionally stunted men to satisfy her, can she discover her sexual identity. Upon discovery of herself, the woman is free from the confines of her emotional bondage.

"I told him I had a husband so he'd know I wasn't free. Because I'm not free, he has to understand its adultery."

Described as “a daring exploration of female sexuality from a female point of view,” Romance revolves around Marie (Caroline Ducey), an elementary school teacher who is confined into an uncertain relationship with her boyfriend, Paul (Sagamore Stevenin), a fashion model. After a sexually intense three-month period at the beginning of their relationship, Paul has become increasingly distant and withdrawn from Marie, citing various reasons for the abrupt change in his behaviour.Resentful of Marie’s suffocating affections, Paul adopts a policy of abstinence from her.

Marie desperately attempts to rekindle Paul’s interest in her; however, he merely ignores her sexual advances. Frustrated and indignant by her partner’s indifference, Marie makes a fateful decision to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and exceed the limitations of her sexual experience. Within moments, it seems, of leaving Paul’s bed, Marie succeeds in flirtatiously attracting Paolo (played by real-life porn actor Rocco Siffredi), a tender and charismatic man, in a Parisian cafe. Their passionate affair is short-lived, however, when Marie - terrified that her desire for her handsome lover seems to be supplanting her misguided love for Paul - decides to terminate the affair.

Marie’s sexual odyssey continues with the appearance of her school’s headmaster Robert (Francois Berleand), an introverted chauvinist, who soon introduces her to the sadomasochistic realm of ropes, handcuffs, and other bondage paraphernalia. During her visitations, Robert becomes more than just Marie’s lover; he becomes her confidant and surrogate father-figure - in effect, the kind and caring antithesis to the cold and dispassionate Paul. However, a chance encounter with a complete stranger succeeds in not only completing Marie’s decent into self-loathing, but forces her to make a drastic reappraisal of her life.

  Video
Contract

Romance is presented in its original 1.66:1 theatrical screen aspect ratio, and is not 16:9 enhanced.

Blacks are impenetrably solid, and shadow detail is quite superb. Details are very sharp and there seems to be no obvious evidence of edge enhancement; picture definition is also excellent. There are no apparent MPEG artefacts and, while some film artefacts - consisting of black dots - were detected, they are minute and are not worthy of any concern. There is some minor aliasing involving a picket fence, and some slight telecine wobbling associated with a cafe's paneling within the first ten minutes.

However, these problems do not warrant alarm from anyone except the most fanatical perfectionist. With no evident grain, this transfer can be considered to be of pristine quality.

There is no colour-bleeding or oversaturation, and flesh-tones are accurate. Indeed, Brelliat - the embodiment of the consummate artist and using Yorgos Arvanitis’ cinematography to devastating effect - deploys colour in a deliberate attempt to accentuate the mood of the characters and their environments. For instance, the bedroom in which Marie and Paul share their embittered sexual relationship is predominately white; cold, clinical and unsullied, the room obtains an aura of sterility, reflecting the lack of passion in a love which has been derailed. At the opposite end of the colour and mood spectrum, Robert’s masochistic-flavoured domain is draped in passionate bordello-red hues; the blatant eroticism in this environment is in direct contrast to Marie’s bedroom.

Overall, the AV Channel have treated this landmark film to a superb transfer; Romance deserves no less.

  Audio
Contract

There is only one audio selection available, that of the French Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track with embedded English subtitles. As a dedicated purist, I find that the only way in which to view a foreign film is with subtitles; with English dubbing, these films often lose their message through inappropriate translation. Thus, I commend the AV Channel’s decision.

Dialogue is firmly placed within the centre speaker and is always clear and comprehensible. Sound, too, is exceptionally clear - most notably, the scene in which Robert is searching through a chest filled with S&M equipment and fastens a series of bondage clamps around Marie’s limbs. No matter how subtle, each metallic jingle is superbly reproduced through the front soundstage.

I viewed Romance via the Dolby Pro-Logic decoder. As one would expect from a film whose narrative is driven by dialogue, there is relatively little accompaniment from the rear speakers and the subwoofer is, of course, inactive. However, there are moments where the rear surrounds provide some truly enveloping atmosphere, courtesy of the music score by D.J. Valentin and Raphael Tidas - in particular, Romance’s haunting theme in the title credits and Marie’s aforementioned bondage sessions with Robert.

Romance’s musical score is much like the film itself - insinuating, darkly sexual, and fraught with an ever-present hint of danger.

  Extras
Contract

Although there is a rather insightful text-based feature on the controversy surrounding Romance, the majority of the features here consist of trailers for imminent releases from Madman Cinema.

Australian Censorship Controversy Correspondence. The most worthy inclusion of all the extras, this 27 page text-based feature discusses the furore associated with Romance’s Australian release, the reasons for its initial ban, and the reason for the Classification Board Review’s overturning of that ban. Interesting and illuminating, the correspondence provides a different perspective when one views the film after reading it.

Theatrical trailers: There are five trailers on offer here, four of which are European releases.

Romance. Presented in a 1.66:1 screen aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0, this teaser trailer runs for a mere 47 seconds.

Fat Girl. Yet another film from Breillat and originally known as A Ma Soeur!, this trailer is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0. Featuring imbedded English subtitles and French language, it runs for 1 minute, 15 seconds.

Betty Blue. Presented in 1.66:1 screen aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0, this French language trailer has a length of 1 minute, 43 seconds. There are no English subtitles.

Paris, Texas. Running for 2 minutes, 2 seconds, this theatrical trailer is presented in a 1.85:1 screen aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0.

Show Me Love. Another European release with English narration, this trailer is featured in a 1.66:1 screen aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 and runs for 1 minute, 44 seconds.

  Overall  
Contract

In Romance, Breillat has succeeded admirably in producing perhaps one of the more definitive films exploring the subject of love’s seedy underbelly. Her script is one of the most beautifully poetic and insightful I have had the privilege to experience, with practically every line of dialogue providing searing observations about the inconsistencies and unrealistic expectations that men and women share about romance.

The film’s critics tend to emphasise that Romance’s greatest inherent flaw lies in the obscure and confusing motivations of its primary characters, Marie and Paul; their personal agendas are violently askew. Ironically, I found the characters’ illogical behaviour and their inability to adequately explain themselves to be one of the film’s greatest strengths. Love in itself is an illogical emotion - thus, unexplainable. Breillat’s deliberate decision not to answer these motivational questions further reinforces Romance’s sense of truth.

The performances in this film are brilliant, with Caroline Ducey’s Marie and Francois Berleand’s Robert proving to be the axis on which Romance’s ideology revolves. In an incredibly tortuous role - compounded by her constant on-set arguments with Breillat’s insistence that her sex scenes not be simulated, but authentic - Ducey projects the epitome of female confusion and suffering. While audiences will be divided over the validity of Marie’s motivation to engage in elicit sex, it is essentially impossible not to experience sympathy for her.

Naturally, Romance is not for everyone and can easily offend with its sexually explicit content and frank sexual dialogue. However, it is fundamentally important to stress that this film is definitely not pornographic - although, in some quarters, it will seen as such. Romance typifies everything which I admire in high-quality cinema - impeccable and measured direction, thought-provoking ideals, brave performances, and the desire to shatter the boundaries of conventional cinema.

If you have assumed that I am in awe of Breillat’s works and, in particular Romance - which is perhaps one of the most important films ever to be released - then you are indeed correct. I absolutely loved this film.


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      And I quote...
    "... Sexually uncompromising, Romance boasts brave performances and an insightful script, brimming with poetic eloquence. Perhaps one of the most important films ever released..."
    - Shaun Bennett
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Panasonic SC-HT80
    • TV:
          Panasonic TX-43P15 109cm Rear Projection
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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