PARIS — In Parisian director Catherine Breillat’s world, everything is distilled down to one thing: sex.
According to the helmer of “Romance,” one of last year’s most sexually provocative films, and “Fat Girl,” which opens in L.A. and N.Y. on Oct. 10, “the most natural thing in the world” has become the most “forbidden.”
And that’s reason enough for her to have devoted eight films and 10 books to variations on the theme.
“I am passionate about looking at things that are taboo,” Breillat tells Variety while digging into a blood rare steak at a restaurant off the Champs Elysees. “I film what other people hide.”
Her latest volume, “La Pornocratie,” was recently published by Denoel. “It has nothing to do with pornography,” she explains. ” ‘Pornocratie’ is the Greek word for the power women wielded over the governing body of men.”
Breillat is the ringleader of a group of female French directors who have spent the last few years making erotic films that reveal the relationship between women and men from a powerful, feminist point of view.
In Brigitte Rouan’s “Post-Coitum, Animal Triste” a bourgeois editor leaves her husband and kids for a sexy, younger Latin lover who later dumps her.
In Breillat’s “36 Fillette,” her first film to be distributed in the U.S., a 14-year-old obsessed with losing her virginity gets her wish. And in Virginie Despentes’ “Baise-Moi,” a violent rape inspires a killing spree with women wielding the guns.
French audiences turned out in droves for these pics and, as a result, several were picked up for U.S. distribution. “Romance” grossed $1.6 million in the U.S.
Except for Despentes’ “Baise-Moi” the subject matter of these films did not stop them from playing in mainstream French theaters; most received a mild “over 16” rating.
Breillat says these films are “subversive” because they distort commonly accepted ideas about how men and women relate to each other.
“Men are tortured by women who own their sexuality,” says Breillat, with a shrug and a big smile.
These films have certainly flustered audiences and critics, who have labeled them everything from “brilliant” to “pornographic.”
Breillat is at work preparing “Intimate Scenes,” a film about the filmmaking process. The film stars Anne Parillaud (“La Femme Nikita”).
“Spiritual and mysterious” is how Breillat describes filmmaking. “There’s that moment when the fear is the same for everyone on the set — the actors, the crew, the director,” she says dreamily.Many of Breillat’s films, like her latest, “Fat Girl,” are about a violent sexual awakening of a very young girl.
“That’s something American films never really show,” she states.
In “Fat Girl,” actress Anais Reboux is 13 like her character and, according to French law, couldn’t actually be in the same room when the love scene was shot. So Breillat constructed much of the film during the editing, including the film’s violent ending.
One of the centerpieces of “Fat Girl” is a scene in which the chubby 13-year-old played by Reboux witnesses her beautiful 15-year-old sister’s sexual initiation at the hands of an older manipulative Italian.
Treading a fine line
The scene, which unfolds slowly as the seduction progresses, is painful to watch. Like the 13-year-old protagonist watching from an adjacent bed, at times the viewer would rather be somewhere else or turn away, yet is unwilling to relinquish this privileged voyeuristic position.
That scene, according to Breillat, was taken from her life — she has a beautiful older sister. However, in the next breath, she emphasizes that she doesn’t make autobiographical films.
“There’s a difference between an autobiographical and an artistic way of working,” she explains. “In the artistic process you take something from yourself and make it more real. In doing so, you unmask certain aspects of yourself.”
And, Breillat adds, you get to know yourself a little more with each work you produce.