One doesn’t readily think of classic fairy tales as pre-tabloid sensationalistic yarns dabbling in universal fears touching on what would be labeled today as portraits of terrorists, serial killers, mass murderers, pedophiles and other assorted malevolent depravity. Yet the enduring fascination of these vintage stories very likely has some connection to an eternal morbid collective consciousness spanning generations, disparate cultures and multiple reinterpretations right down to the supermarket scandal sheets and slasher movies of today. And irreverently artsy filmmaker Catherine Breillat’s novel twist on the no less twisted pre-feminist Bluebeard [Barbe Bleue] further fuels that tradition peculiarly relegated to children’s literature.
No stranger to tales precociously delving into the dramatic intersection of gender and class, 17th century Bluebeard scribe Charles Perrault also penned Mother Goose and Cinderella. But Breillat’s Bluebeard is whimsically focused on linking the two worlds of film within a film present and distant past youthful female imagination. And while a mischievous little girl gleefully reads the diabolical Bluebeard tale aloud as a means of teasing and intimidating her emotionally fragile older sister in an attic somewhere in France, the actual story unfolds in ancient times as that of a teenager both discovering and seeking a means of control over an indifferent and callous world.
Lola Creton is Marie-Catherine in Bluebeard, a waif who is heartlessly sent home by the ruthless nuns from a Catholic boarding school on a moment’s notice along with her older sister Anne (Daphne Baiwir), after her father suddenly passes away and so can no longer pay their tuition. When the province’s many times married elder Lord Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas), who lives in an imposing castle overlooking the countryside, announces that he is seeking a new wife, Marie-Catherine eagerly applies for the position even though she is still just a child, in order to escape her dire economic circumstances at home.
And while the bossy youngster seems to wear the vintage pants in the family for a while, the scary looking, portly Bluebeard with a notorious reputation for a succession of disappeared brides, initially plays the wimp but has something eventually more treacherous in mind. Though Marie-Catherine’s spunky ingenuity may come in handy in a compromising situation.
Bluebeard is graced with poetically photographed, fantasy laden cinematography that serves as bracing counterpoint to the cruel and creepy story at hand. But this fairy tale seems in the end to be just that, and not much more. And with a sense that despite the enchanting imagery and quirky characters, we’re left with basically much ado about nothing.
2 1/2 stars