I LOVED this fairy tale as a child- I remember reading it and getting chills (my other favorite was the similarly dark “Robber Bridegroom”). Catherine Breillat’s re-interpretation has a nice frame tale of two sisters in the 1950s. They are reading the story aloud in the attic, picking on one another, and having adorable conversations about marriage. When we meet the sisters of the 17th century, Marie Catherine and Anne, they have just lost their father to a freak accident. They are thrown into poverty and watch helplessly as their household goods are repossessed (No! Not the harpsichord!). As an alternative to the convent, the younger sister marries Bluebeard and moves into his castle. She has heard rumor that her new husband is a wife-murdering maniac but living with this risk is somehow better than living as a nun.
There’s a fair amount of suspense- the actress playing Marie Catherine has a fantastically open and expressive face- but what makes the movie so special is its rich styling. Omigod, the costumes and settings are divine. The prettiest scenes: the sisters from the 1950s with their checked dresses, Bluebeard and his bride identifying wild mushrooms, the bloody room of ex-wives. Gorgeous!
This wasn’t as controversial as I’d anticipated (the only movie I’d seen by Breillat before this was Fat Girl which kinda hurt my heart). The ickiness of a marriage between young Marie Catherine and old, corpulent Bluebeard is unavoidable. However, nothing beyond a fatherly embrace happens and, just so you don’t hurl, it’s clearly mentioned that these two will not sleep together until the bride turns 20. I liked Bluebeard’s paternal tenderness (not always creepy) and the sincere affection Marie Catherine seemed to have for him.
PS: Breillat is working on a trilogy of re-worked fairy tales. I definitely want to see The Sleeping Beauty.