Catherine Breillat

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Catherine Breillat
Catherine Breillat (2014).jpg
Breillat in 2014
Born (1948-07-13) 13 July 1948 (age 74)
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter, novelist

Catherine Breillat (French: [bʁɛja]; born 13 July 1948) is a French filmmaker, novelist and professor of auteur cinema at the European Graduate School. In the film business for over 40 years, Catherine Breillat chooses to normalize previously taboo subjects in cinema. Taking advantage of the medium of cinema, Breillat juxtaposes different perspectives to highlight irony found in society.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Breillat was born in Bressuire, Deux-Sèvres, but grew up in Niort. She decided to become a writer and director at the age of twelve after watching Ingmar Bergman's Gycklarnas afton, believing she had found her "fictional body" in Harriet Andersson's character, Anna.[2]

She started her career after studying acting at Yves Furet's "Studio d'Entraînement de l'Acteur" in Paris together with her sister, actress Marie-Hélène Breillat (born 2 June 1947) in 1967. At the age of 17, she had her novel published, l'Homme facile (A Man for the Asking). The French government banned it for readers under 18 years old. A film based on the novel was made shortly after the publication of the book, but the producer went bankrupt and the distributor Artedis blocked any commercial release of the film for twenty years although it had been given an R rating.[3]

Breillat is known for films focusing on sexuality,[4] intimacy, gender conflict, and sibling rivalry. Breillat has been the subject of controversy for her explicit depictions of sexuality and violence. She cast the porn actor Rocco Siffredi in her films Romance (Romance X, 1999) and Anatomie de l'enfer (Anatomy of Hell, 2004). Her novels have been best-sellers.

Her work has been associated with the cinéma du corps/cinema of the body genre.[5] In an interview with Senses of Cinema, she described David Cronenberg as another filmmaker she considers to have a similar approach to sexuality in film.[6]

Though Breillat spends most of her time behind the camera, she has acted in a handful of movies. She made her film debut in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972) as Mouchette, a dressmaker, alongside her sister Marie-Hélène Breillat.

In 2004, Breillat suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, causing a stroke that paralyzed her left side.[7] After five months of hospitalization and a slow rehabilitation, she gradually returned to work, producing Une vieille maîtresse (The Last Mistress) in 2007. This film was one of three French films officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival of that year.

In 2007, Breillat met notorious conman Christophe Rocancourt, and offered him a leading role in a movie that she was planning to make, based on her own novel Bad Love, and starring Naomi Campbell.[8] Soon after, she gave him 25,000 to write a screenplay titled La vie amoureuse de Christophe Rocancourt (The Love Life of Christophe Rocancourt), and over the next year and a half, gave him loans totalling an additional €678,000.[9] In 2009, a book written by Breillat was published, in which she alleged that Rocancourt had taken advantage of her diminished mental capacity, as she was still recovering from her stroke.[10] The book is titled Abus de faiblesse, a French legal term usually translated as "abuse of weakness".[11] In 2012, Rocancourt was convicted of abus de faiblesse for taking Breillat's money, and sentenced to prison.[9]

In September 2010, Breillat's second fairy-tale based film, La belle endormie (Sleeping Beauty), opened in the Orizzonti sidebar in the 67th Venice Film Festival.[12]

As of 2011, although Breillat had moved on to other projects, she still hoped to film Bad Love, but had not yet been able to find financing to do so.[13] However, a film adaptation of her book Abus de faiblesse, directed by Breillat and starring Isabelle Huppert, began production in 2012, and was screened at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.[14][15]

It has been noted that "Breillat remains committed to the long take, particularly during scenes of sexual negotiation, a technique that showcases her performers' virtuosity as well as emphasizes the political and philosophical elements of sex. In both Fat Girl and Romance, for example, key sex scenes possess shots lasting over seven minutes."[16]

in 2018, Breillat made controversial remarks on Asia Argento, who starred in 2007's The Last Mistress, calling Argento a "traitor" for accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault.[17]

Common themes in Breillat's films[edit]

Through film, Breillat attempts to redefine the female narrative in cinema by showing female characters who undergo similar experiences as their male counterparts. Many of Breillat's films explore the transition between girlhood and adulthood. The females of her films attempt to escape their adolescence by seeking individuality.[18] There is an unsaid silence in society for girls to hide their sexuality and desires unless directly confronted about them. Breillat offers a platform to discuss female pleasure and sexual responsibility by exposing social and sexual conflicts in her films' themes.[1]



Year English title Original title Notes
1975 Catherine & Co. Catherine et Compagnie Writer
1976 A Real Young Girl Une Vraie Jeune Fille Based on Breillat's novel Le Soupirail. Banned after initial premiere, until 1999.
1979 Nocturnal Uproar Tapage nocturne
1987 Milan noir Writer
1988 Virgin / Junior Size 36 36 Fillette Based on her novel
1991 Dirty Like an Angel Sale comme un ange
1993 Couples et amants Couples et amants Co-writer
1996 Perfect Love Parfait amour!
1999 Romance Romance X
2001 Fat Girl À ma sœur!
2001 Brief Crossing Brève traversée
2002 Sex Is Comedy Sex Is Comedy
2004 Anatomy of Hell Anatomie de l'enfer Based on her novel Pornocratie
2007 The Last Mistress Une vieille maîtresse Based on the novel by Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly (1851). Entered into the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.[19]
2009 Bluebeard Barbe bleue Based on the tale by Charles Perrault
2010 Sleeping Beauty La belle endormie Based on Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault
2013 Abuse of Weakness Abus de faiblesse Based on her book of the same title

Stage plays[edit]

  • Les Vêtements de mer


  • Abus de faiblesse
  • Pornocratie
  • Le Soupirail
  • L'homme facile
  • Tapage Nocturne


  1. ^ a b Constable, "Unbecoming Sexual Desires for Women Becoming Sexual Subjects."
  2. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Catherine Breillat on Intimacy -". YouTube. 1 February 2010. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  3. ^ "Breillat veut racheter son film. Pierre-Richard Muller d'Artédis en possède les droits. Une vraie jeune fille (1976) de Catherine Breillat, avec Charlotte Alexandra, Hiram Keller, Bruno Balp, Rita Meiden, Georges Gueret (musique de Mort Shuman sur des paroles de Catherine Breillat); 1h30. - Libération". 28 April 1999. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  4. ^ Emma Wilson, "Deforming femininity: Catherine Breillat's Romance" France on Film: Reflections on Popular French Cinema ed. Lucy Mazdon. London: Wallflower (2001): 146. Romance "is part of a larger and sustained project in Breillat's art to consider, challenge and reinvent female sexuality."
  5. ^ Palmer, Tim, Brutal Intimacy: Analyzing Contemporary French Cinema, Wesleyan University Press, 2011.
  6. ^ Murphy, Kevin (February 2005). "Hell's Angels: An Interview with Catherine Breillat on Anatomy of Hell". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  7. ^ "Quand Christophe Rocancourt et Catherine Breillat se dechirent" Le Parisien; Thursday 9 July 2009, p. 13
  8. ^ Secher, Benjamin (5 April 2008). "Catherine Breillat: 'All true artists are hated'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  9. ^ a b de Mallevoüe, Delphine (18 February 2012). "Christophe Raconcourt sort de prison et prépare un livre". Le Figaro (in French). Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  10. ^ Groves, Don (9 August 2010). "Breillat's new twist on Sleeping Beauty". SBS. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  11. ^ Roxo, Alexandra (7 July 2011). "A Conversation with Catherine Breillat (THE SLEEPING BEAUTY)". Hammer to Nail. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  12. ^ Lyman, Eric J., "'La Belle endormie' to premiere at Venice fest", "The Hollywood Reporter", 19 July 2010 [1] Access date: Thursday 19 August 2010.
  13. ^ Kohn, Eric (6 July 2011). "'Sleeping Beauty' Director Catherine Breillat: 'To Be An Artist is To Be Alone.'". Indiewire. SnagFilms. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  14. ^ Keslassy, Elsa (12 January 2012). "Breillat to helm 'Abus de faiblesse'". Variety. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  15. ^ Kolesnikov-Jessop, Sonia (12 December 2012). "Isabelle Huppert Hopes to Work With More Asian Film Directors". ARTINFO. Louise Blouin Media. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  16. ^ Conway, Kelley (27 January 2015). Sexually Explicit French Cinema: Genre, Gender, and Sex. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 461–480. ISBN 9781444338997.
  17. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (30 March 2018). "Actress Asia Argento, Director Catherine Breillat Trade Barbs In Heated Exchange".
  18. ^ Garcia and Breillat, "Rewriting Fairy Tales, Revisiting Female Identity."
  19. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Last Mistress". Archived from the original on 12 October 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2009.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anne-Élisabeth Blateau, « Une vieille maîtresse sans Breillat » (A Last Mistress without Breillat), in Carré d'Art by Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Anagramme, Paris, 2008 (pp. 143–149).
  • Douglas Keesey, Catherine Breillat, Manchester University Press, coll. « French film directors », 2009.

External links[edit]