‘When you have your back to the wall, everything becomes easy’: performance and direction in the films of Catherine Breillat
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French director Catherine Breillat has gained notoriety for her distinctly personal portrayal of gender relations and intimacy. With the inclusion of sexually explicit scenes, such as those featuring loss of virginity and/or rape, her films explore subjects of emotional, as well as visual, taboo. In this article the author examines Breillat’s preproduction and on-set practices, particularly focusing on her control of actors’ bodies. Breillat’s risk-taking seems to involve a lack of contact with actors in the preproduction stage of each film, meaning that the camera is rolling when scenes play out for the first time. The director counters this risk with long periods of casting and her technique of control on-set: the precise choreography of each shot. Rather than allow actors to move and act on the emotional responses they draw from the script, Breillat physically puts them into position, choreographs their movement in advance and models the performance she wishes to capture. The author suggests that, by taking risks as director, notably by pushing cast and crew into fearful and uncomfortable situations, Breillat is able to capture moments of onscreen intimacy in a subversive manner. The author draws upon her own interview with Breillat (undertaken during a period of screen testing for her latest film, Abus de faiblesse ), as well as a range of other primary and secondary sources, to provide a new reading of key scenes in films such as Romance (1999) and À ma sœur (2001).
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