Ostensibly an adaptation of Charles Perrault’s baroque fairytale, Bluebeard is also a distilled and densely layered exposition on Catherine Breillat’s recurring preoccupation with socioeconomic and sexual politics. Structured as a tale within a tale, the film alternates between past and present, childhood and adolescence, fiction and reality. On one level is bright, cherubic Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites) who sneaks away into the attic with her older, more gullible sister, Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti) to read Perrault’s fairytale. On another level is the realization of the fairytale itself: the plight of dowry-less, virginal Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton) who is compelled to marry the reclusive nobleman, Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas) in order to lift her mother (Isabelle Lapouge) and older sister, Anne (Daphne Baïwir) from a life of poverty following the accidental death of her father. By interchanging Catherine and Marie-Catherine during a pivotal staircase shot, Breillat draws an implicit parallel between the real and fictional younger sisters. At the core of the intersected stories is the idea of role reversal: Catherine, who relishes her ability to terrify her older sister with her all-too-animated readings of Bluebeard; and Marie-Catherine, who not only brings financial security to her family, but also asserts influence over her world-weary, murderous husband with her disarming innocence. Combined with elements of reflexive construction – specifically, the mismatched cuts of Marie-Catherine ascending the tower staircase that emphasize a looped editing used to achieve the illusion of verticality – Breillat creates a droll and incisive metaphor for the nature of empowerment.
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