1999, NR, 95 min. Directed by Catherine Breillat. Starring Rocco Siffredi, François Berleand, Sagamore Stevenin, Caroline Ducey.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 22, 1999
They say that sex is all in the head. If that is so, we wonder why we have to see so many naked bodies in this controversial new French film and hear the characters pontificate about sex. Heralded for its daring sexual candor (“the most sexually explicit mainstream film ever released”), Romance is an oddly unerotic movie. As the central character Marie (Ducey) unabashedly explores her sexual impulses (read: gets naked with great frequency), she is equally compelled to examine her thoughts and share her metaphysical odyssey with the viewers. Marie is a bourgeois schoolteacher who lives with her aloof boyfriend Paul, who hasn't made love to her in several months. When not modeling in toreador outfits on photo shoots, Paul eats alone in Japanese restaurants while reading Bukowski. Marie is, nevertheless, madly in love with him, yet also frustrated with herself for being so hung up on someone who doesn't even begin to fulfill her emotional and physical needs. So, what does she do? She gets up in the middle of the night, gets dressed, and goes out cruising. Theoretically (and this movie is nothing if not theoretical), Marie needs to subjugate herself for her obsession with a man who rejects her. At a bar, she picks up Paolo (Siffredi, who is a well-known star of Italian porn films); the sex is good but he does not love her (I only know this because I read the press kit). So Marie moves on to her boss, Robert (Berleand), the grade-school principal who claims to have seduced more than 10,000 women. It turns out that Robert is an expert at bondage, who takes great care while tying her up. (He's so attentive with his long ropes that one begins wondering how he could possibly had the time to devote to 10,000 women.) Marie is compliant, and at some level intellectually engaged, but her expression is devoid of feeling or involvement. So her quest continues. As her exploration expands so do the structural schemes of the story. Paul's apartment is all white, but her affairs are steadily drenched in richer color patterns. The Paul/Paolo name resemblance is certainly no coincidence. But much like the newly discovered verities Marie spouts throughout the film, their revelations are not very enlightening or revealing. Surely, there must be more going on in this film than its full-frontal nudity for it to have created the sensation it has. Sex may, indeed, be all in the mind, but Romance fails to score in the mind's eye.