SLEEPING BEAUTY Rather than Disney, Catherine Breillat’s latest recalls both Lewis Carroll and the Marquis de Sade.
The French have always made movies about women, but now the women are making movies about themselves. So the program for this year's Boston French Film Festival would suggest. Eight of the 22 features in it are from female directors. And like many of their male colleagues represented here, they too try to figure out the role, nature, power, and allure of the eternal feminine.
Leave it to the ever-stimulating Catherine Breillat to dream up the festival's most original take on the subject. She's come a long way since her one-note provocations, such as Fat Girl (2001), with her "adaptations" of literary works and fairy tales. Her SLEEPING BEAUTY (2010; July 22 @ 6 pm + July 23 @ 3 pm) is the best yet. It delights and disturbs, recalling both Lewis Carroll and the Marquis de Sade. Breillat tells the familiar story from the point of view of the dreaming princess, here a child of six, doomed by a curse to sleep for 100 years or until Prince Charming wakes her with a kiss. Well, the prince can take his time, because what she dreams about is at least as entertaining as what happens in the Disney version, and a lot weirder and more profound.
Another young girl finds herself, again through seemingly supernatural means, in Julie Bertuccelli's THE TREE (2011; July 16 @ 7:30). Set in Australia with English dialogue, it qualifies as French apparently because that's the nationality of the director and of the star, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg plays Dawn, a wife and mother of four whose idyllic life on a farm in the outback shatters when her husband drops dead. Everyone in the family tries to adjust to the loss except for eight-year-old Simone (Morgana Davies), who believes her father's spirit inhabits the huge mangrove tree that overhangs the house. You might believe her, too — not just because Davies puts in a performance that holds its own alongside the masterful Gainsbourg — but also because Bertuccelli evokes the uncanniness of Polanski's Repulsion when she's not edging toward the tawdry horror of The Ruins.
Rebecca Zlotowski's DEAR PRUDENCE (2010; July 14 @ 6 pm + July 16 @ 3:10 pm) could use a little bit of such magic, since its melodrama about the mopey 17-year-old (Léa Seydoux) of the title comes off as a not-always-inspired feminine variation on Rebel Without a Cause. Played with grim determination by Seydoux, Prudence copes with her mother's death and her general alienation by hanging out with some uninteresting bikers, where her options for independence and self-realization come down to being a disposable sex object and ego boost for jerks in leather jackets.
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