|Illustration by Gustave Dore 1862|
The French author Charles Perrault was responsible for laying the foundations for what we now call Fairy Stories. Amongst his better-known works are Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty and of course his most frightening tale Bluebeard which he wrote in 1697. It tells the story of a violent nobleman whose wives had the habit of disappearing shortly after their wedding day. The character is said to have been based on Gilles de Rais a 15th century nobleman, best friend of Joan of Arc the virgin of France and a prolific serial killer and paedophile, a man who was never charged with his crime’s because of his wealth and standing within the aristocracy: history tells us that this was not unusual.
Controversial French film director Catherine Breillat, best known for films focusing on female sexuality, intimacy, gender conflict and sibling rivalry, has turned Perrault three-page fairy story into a feature film Bluebeard (2009). She elects to tell the gruesome tale via two young sisters in the 1950’s who have hidden themselves in a forbidden attic room, the younger of the two, 5 year old Catherine, reads the story to her older sister in order to frighten her, the two, who constantly bicker and argue are then metaphorically transported into the story when we are taken back to 1697 where we find two more sisters, the youngest is 14 and the elder is 18 years old. The sudden death of their father forces them to leave the convent where they’re being educated and travel home, with little or no hope of marriage because a dowry is now non-existent. The local lord a wealthy aristocrat, feared and shunned by all because of his fearsome appearance invites the two sisters to a banquet with an offer of marriage for one of them even when there is no possibility of a settlement. The older sister Anne is terrified of the man but her younger sister Marie-Catherine takes an instant liking to this giant of a man finding him kind and considerate. Following her marriage she goes to live in his castle but within a short time Bluebeard tells her he must go away on business for a while however he gives her his keys informing her she can go any where in the Castle but under no circumstances is she to unlock and enter the store room under the castle. Promising she would comply with his wishes he sets off on his journey. But within a very short time curiosity gets the better of Marie and she descends the stairs to the forbidden room, unlocking the door she discovers a dreadful secret. When Bluebeard returns home he quickly discovers that his young wife has disobeyed his wishes and he must inflict the ultimate punishment.
|Mr and Mrs Bluebeard.|
Originally made for Franco-German television with a very modest budget it was praised for its simplicity and directness. Breillat very clever reworking of this legend almost turn’s the brutal tale into a conventional love story with Marie-Catherine actually falling in love with Bluebeard. The director’s clever interpretation of this classic legend teases out the teenage adolescence of young girls and their early sexual desires, which the director explains in a very interesting interview. The story continues to fascinate little girls with its fairy tale format and its grotesque chamber of horrors. She goes on to say that there is a strange attraction to the man who will eventually kill you, without giving an explanation! It is also said that serial killers instantly know who will be their victims: some disturbing thoughts!
|Lola Creton as Marie-Catherine.|
Unusual for this director there is a lack of physical sex, but not of sexuality, the fresh blood on the floor of the secret chamber symbolizes the blood from Marie-Catherine impending loss of virginity. Her innocence and her most precious asset, her pure condition, protect her from the threat of immediate death. But in this latest version we find Bluebeard is actually captivated by his very young wife.
The film was shot in the Limousin area of France. The director did not want well known actors used in the production so she choose people from the local area and set up auditions in Paris to cast both sets of young girls. The stand out performance is from Lola Creton who is totally convincing as Bluebeard’s young spouse Marie-Catherine. The movie has a picture book feel, pictures that resemble paintings, ones you would have remembered from childhood. Tightly framed with even the smallest details controlled, the dialogue is almost incidental with the images telling us more than words can do following a principle that very young children can hardly read therefore children’s fairy story’s should be communicated with the use of colourful pictures. Breillat implies that the story is a sort of child immunisation preparing for the realities of grown up lives, underlining the horrors that can befall us all in adulthood, she explained it thus: children must face up to evil, its like an immunity, being exposed to germs at an early age can give you immunity in later life. Can’t wait to see this courageous directors take on Sleeping Beauty!