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Catherine Breillat Pushes the Boundaries With Stepmother-Stepson Relationship in New Film

Catherine Breillat Pushes the Boundaries With Stepmother-Stepson Relationship in New Film

When French filmmaker Catherine Breillat was 40, her husband left her for a much younger woman. Soon after, she began dating a man 12 years her junior.

“Men often dismiss their older wives, saying they can no longer be loved,” Breillat said in a recent interview, through an interpreter. “But that's not true. I want to tell other women that there is no reason to despair.” In her new film Last summerhitting theaters on Friday, explores this concept through a provocative plot.

Since the 1970s, the acclaimed director, now 75, has focused on the troubled sexual awakenings of young girls, often involving older men. However, in Last summerthe roles are reversed: a middle-aged lawyer, Anne (Léa Drucker), jeopardizes her career and her marriage by having a secret affair with her seventeen-year-old stepson, Théo (Samuel Kircher).

Breillat's first film in a decade joins a trend of recent films examining the power dynamics in relationships where the woman is older, such as Anne Hathaway's The idea of ​​you and the controversial Todd Haynes May DecemberHaynes' film, inspired by the true story of a relationship between a teacher and her student, portrays the young man as a victim grappling with complex emotions.

Breillat, however, offers a different perspective. In her film, the teenager “is not only the object of desire, but the subject of desire,” actively pursuing the relationship. Breillat avoids judging her characters, instead depicting how illicit desire consumes them both.

“I find this representation much more compelling than society’s moralizing narratives,” she said.

Breillat's motivation for creating Last summera retelling of the 2019 Danish drama Queen of Heartswas to challenge the “cougar” stereotype and social norms that suggest younger men only date older women for financial reasons.

In his nearly fifty-year career, which includes acting in Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial film Last Tango in ParisFemale sexuality has been central to Breillat's work.

“Few filmmakers delve into the subject like Breillat, a master provocateur who challenges society’s expectations of women,” wrote Manohla Dargis in her review for the Times.

Despite her bold exploration of desire, Breillat has often faced criticism in France, where she feels her work is underappreciated. She believes her career might not exist without the positive reception in English-speaking countries.

When he released his 1988 film 36 Filletstarring a forty-year-old playboy who manipulates a fourteen-year-old girl, French critics have called it “the worst French film ever made.”

“I was criticized for starring a man who was a 'caricature,'” she recalled. “The #MeToo movement showed that my cinema reflects reality.”

Although known for explicit intimacy, Breillat said Last summer It's not about carnal pleasure. “This film is about the dark side of desire,” he said.

Last summer includes three sex scenes between Anne and Théo, but their nudity is intentionally off-screen. “You don't film their bodies,” Breillat explained. “The transcendent emotions they feel are only visible on their faces.”

Focusing on their expressions, Breillat explores what the characters imagine during their encounters. “Love is storytelling; it's projecting yourself into a relationship,” she said. “It's fiction. It's thought. It's an idea.”

Breillat opposes the use of intimacy coordinators, believing they “put blinders on the viewers” rather than ensuring the emotional safety of the actors. “If a director can't stage a scene like that, he shouldn't do it,” he said.

Filming sex scenes requires absolute vulnerability, Breillat said, and for her it should be that way. “What's the point of making films if you're not afraid, if the stakes aren't so crucial that they're about the core of our existence?” she asked.

By Charlotte Federer

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