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Samantha Staufenberg 5/3/2012 French Cinema Power Relations in Catherine Breillats Bluebeard

Catherine Breillats retelling of Charles Perraults short story Bluebeard intertwines the serial killer Bluebeard and his wife with the story of two little girls reading the original story from a book. The sound, cinematography, and mis en scene that form the narrative of the film critiques the familial and marital power relations that are passed to modern viewers or readers through the mental consumption of fairy tales. It forces viewers to confront the value systems that they themselves might have internalized through their own consumption of the original tale and question the validity of those value systems. The fairy tales that children encounter affect the way that they view the world around them. Marcia Liebermann in her article "'Some Day My Prince Will Come': Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale" states that children learn behavioral and associational patterns, [and] value systems when reading fairy tales (Liebermann 384). Often these tales reinforce self-destructive social and psychological patterns of behavior that children emulate through childhood and beyond (Zipes 8). In order to create a counter fairy tale discourse to the potentially damaging messages that young minds encounter and bring into adulthood many writers and directors create adaptations or retellings of these popularized stories. V. Joosen in the article Fairy-tale Retellings Between Art and Pedagogy purports that fairy tales provide children and adolescents with a new perspective on a well-known narrative (Joosen 131). This new perspective challenges viewers to make the connection with the original tale while

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presenting issues and pointing out possible interpretationswhich they had not noticed before (Joosen 131). This new perspective challenges viewers to make the connection with the original tale while presenting issues and pointing out possible interpretations which they had not noticed before (Joosen 131). Catherine Breillets Bluebeard counters the messages that readers obtained from the original tale. Genevieve Yue explains in her essay on Catherine Breillets Sleeping Beauty that Bluebeard [and] The Sleeping Beauty [subvert] Perraults moralizing intent (Yue). Bluebeard, according to that moral at the end of the short story is about the evils of female curiosity (Tatar 158). Breillat successfully remakes the short story that directly addresses how fairy tale morals and messages are learned and acted upon from the continuous exposure to Charles Perraults fairy tale collection by two young early adolescent sisters, Marie-Anne and Catherine. The setting that Marie-Catherine and Anne and Marie-Anne and Catherine inhabit conveys a sense of instability that is vital to the precarious power relations. Marie-Catherine and Annes family home is a small cot that mingles wealth and poverty. The house seems to be constructed of poor material. The walls are not smooth; instead they have visible cracks, stains, and lumps. The floors and outer walls are stones that are cemented together are roughly done. The furniture and decorations within the house in comparison are intricately designed and brightly colored. The red piano, the fathers bed, the drapery that masks the poorly constructed wall in the main room are pieces of wealth that are contrapuntal to the rest of the setting that gives a sense of poor peasants. The fact that the wealth is later removed suggests even more that the position of the family as a whole is subject to change at any twist or turn of fate. This

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instability mimics the power struggle that is constantly being enacted by the high-strung daughters, Anne and Marie-Catherine in Bluebeards tale. The two more modern sisters Marie-Anne and Catherine inhabit an aging building that is gradually falling apart. The first glimpse of the walls reveals that the window frame is missing a section of glass. Lost, forgotten, or discarded items are stored within the dust and cobweb covered interior. It is here that the two sisters seem to be transported into the world and value system of Bluebeard. It is in that room that they discover Perraults book of fairy tales to read. It is in that room that Marie-Anne, Anne, Marie-Catherine, and Catherines stories are tied together by the decrepit, instable surroundings filled with wondrous removable items that they surround themselves with. These setting unconsciously bind the girls together. The camera style unites both storylines and suggests an underlying problem. In fairy tales the families are portrayed as they journey from disequilibrium to equilibrium (Seifert 2). This sense of disequilibrium is conveyed from the first scene as the viewer absorbs the piece of art work as it subtly wiggles. This slight imperfection in the filming continues as the characters act out as Marie-Catherines and Catherines relationships gradually sour until the handheld camera captures the final scene where Marie-Catherine touches the severed head of Bluebeard and stares off, traumatized into space. Equilibrium, Lewis Seifert suggests, most often hinges on males and females within the unit of the family (Seifert 2). Just as equilibrium is not present in the beginning of the film, this fairy tale does not return to equilibrium. The imperfections of the hand held camera also seem to hint at the unreliability of power and the flux of that power within individual relationships. Bluebeards wifes family dynamics are laid out in typical fairy tale fashion through the stylistic techniques. The mother, the father, Anne, and Marie-Catherine all emulate typical fairy

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tale stereotypes. In typical fairy tales ultimately the heros parentsare directly implicated in the misfortunes (Tatar 59). This is an aspect of the storyline that the stylistic techniques and the characters themselves seem very vocal about. There is an almost constant give and take as the daughters blame one parent and then the other for their current misfortune. In the first scene Marie-Anne, the youngest daughter holds herself back as the eldest runs to the mother who is seen standing in the upper right corner of the extreme long shot in shallow focus. The camera perspective shifts to a subjective shot from Marie-Annes point of view as she watches from afar the reunion. The camera does not hone in from the medium shot, instead it remains steady as the daughter holds herself aloof. The acceptance by one daughter and disdain of another seems to be a constant theme of this family dynamic. A few scenes later when the mother laments about their situation, her speech occurs while the camera is trained on Anne, the oldest daughter. The shot begins as a close shot on Anne that gradually shifts to a medium shot and then a long shot. Then as Annes attitude toward the mother shifts from the doting mother to the typical fairy tale parental ogre the shot tracks to the right until Anne is at the far left of the shot (Tatar 59) The mother does not return to the shot until the daughter herself moves and camera tracks her movements as she circles the mother continuing her chores while verbally bating her mother. This is the defining moment where the mother, subjected to the patriarchal control of the father, allows the daughters to fill his place. The daughters opinion of the father is just as erratic and potentially bitter. The fathers body as if his control of the family continues past his death fills the majority of the medium shots that he appears in. Marie-Catherine is internally framed between a standing candle and the intricate post of the bed, and the bed containing the corpse and the rough wall at her back. She proclaims to his corpse that he is very handsome in his current state as the low-key light falls

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onto his folded hands in an almost divine way. It is as if his living body had already been cast in the role of ogre and now that his corpse will soon be buried she is free to romanticize his life and his relationship to her. On the other hand when Anne enters the shot with a scrape of the door, she maneuvers into a position where she is framed between the bed, the ceiling, the bed post, and the arching headboard of the bed. She is even more tightly trapped then her sister by her physical position and her emotional one toward her paradoxically absent/present father. Marie-Catherine is mesmerized by the newfound beauty of his pale corpse to the point where she cannot see the familys oncoming ruin. Anne on the other hand is trapped in her disdain for their current circumstances to the point where it shadows any former familial loyalty she might have felt for him. I hate him she tells her Marie-Catherine before leaving the scene where her father and sister are both bathed in light. The relationships with the siblings are just as filled with conflict to the point where the siblings are engaged in the stereotypical fairy sibling rivalry (Tatar 58). Fairy tales suggest that for girls, women, and heroines life is a beauty contest the winner, who always seems to be the prettiest is invariably singled out and designated for reward, or first for punishment and later for reward (Liebermann385). Marie-Catherine and Anne compete against each other, or more precisely it is Marie-Catherine that actively engages in competition while Anne the beautiful one does not have to compete, her presence seems to encroach into every aspect of Marie-Catherines life. This can be seen when Anne is seen singing on the rich piano forte in her own home from the objective perspective. The scene shifts to show Marie-Catherine interacting with her fathers dead body. The strains of Annes singing and piano playing can be heard through the walls. Even while engaged in an intimate moment with her father, Anne is able to enter the scene, suggesting that it should be Anne and not Marie-Catherine that is chosen by the rich husband. Even after

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Marie-Catherine manages to marry Bluebeard and thus win the competition, equilibrium is not found. Fairy tale weddings should offer a resolution of social and familial conflicts (Seifert 107), but it becomes clear that the sibling rivalry has not been conquered when Anne plays the same song on the same piano within her coveted castle. Marie-Anne and Catherine exposed to the family conflicts and the rules that will lead to a happy ending in fairy tales transpose those values into their everyday modern lives. Fairy tales promote jealousy and divisiveness among girls as they maneuver toward the happy ending. All the while they are that happy endings are contests, for which there can be only one winner because there is only one prize (Liebermann385). From the very first moment that Marie-Anne and Catherine are seen they are already at disequilibrium. The shot captures both girls from a high angle objective point of view that allows the viewer to appraise the characters. It becomes clear as they two characters climb the stairs, Catherine leading the way that she is in charge. Marie-Annes position next to the handrail suggests a passive, wary nature that coincides with the traditional fairy tale heroine. Catherine knows that only one daughter can win, so she aggressively maneuvers the space around Marie-Anne in the hopes of forcing a win. Catherines control of the situation escalates when she narrates from Perraults Bluebeard. When she reads the section where Marie-Catherine runs to the forbidden chamber we see an extreme close up of Catherines face from Marie-Annes point of view. This is a moment of total control for Catherine. Marie-Anne may be the fairy tale heroine, but in that moment Catherine can use the other girls fear against her. The only thing that stops Catherines wild desire to one up MarieAnne is Marie-Annes fall through the roof. The death or at the very least injury of Marie-Anne makes equilibrium impossible.

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There is a false notion of equal power in Bluebeards and Marie-Catherines relationship conveyed by the cinematography. In the first scene that Bluebeard and Marie-Catherine interact the scene begins with Bluebeards objective point of view. The camera is filmed from a low angle in order to convey the fact that Marie-Catherine is standing while Bluebeard himself is lounging against a tree. The point of view of the objective shifts from Bluebeard to MarieCatherine through the rest of the conversation. The difference in the camera distance is the only aspect that changes and suggests a power relationship that is shifted in Bluebeards favor. The camera distance in Marie-Catherine's point of view is always a long shot in the scene, while Bluebeards shifts from a medium shot to a close up. This difference suggests that Bluebeard has access to more complicated means of understanding and thus more power in the relationship. The unbalanced power in the relationship will become more apparent after the marriage when Bluebeard and Marie-Catherine arrive at the castle. In the castle Bluebeard fills the claustrophobic small hallways, the low doorways, as well as the majority of the shots that he is within. This space that he inhabits only becomes more pronounced when held up against MarieCatherines petite size that does not allow her to command such an imposing presence. While the objective view of the first bedchamber scene suggests some flux in the power of the relationship when the camera remains trained on Marie-Catherine, this seems limited, an anomaly that he allows to happen. He could, if he so desires, wander into the shot at any time and claim the cameras attention once again. Since the film is dealing with [an] potent myth in which a helpless woman violates her husband's arbitrary command and then is subject to his savage, implacable fury (Liebermann 394), the power in the relationship needs to be skewed in Bluebeards favor. This film could not comment on the irrationality of the tendency for fairy tales to express theme[s] of prohibition, transgression, and punishment on the first offence by

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sending not only Marie-Catherine spiraling towards a potential death, but Marie-Anne as well (Bottigheimer 81). The clothes that the characters wear tie them together and suggest a deeper significance. Marie-Catherine and Anne both go through changes in wardrobe. Marie-Catherine and Anne change clothes multiple times as their storyline progresses. First, they are clothed in their Catholic school uniforms, a black knee length gown that the nuns forced them to wear. Anne is briefly seen in floor length pink dress before her mother forces her to remove it to reveal a plain shift. The next stage is the mourning black. Each change in wardrobe is forced by outside circumstances. These are individuals that have no control of their own wardrobe or destiny. At this stage in their development they may be catty to their mother, but they are ultimately passive and pretty, but also unusually [] obedient. (44) Then the girls are given richer clothes: various gowns and Marie-Catherines wedding finery. The girls clothes change as their status, circumstances, and expectations change. Catherine and Marie-Anne wear matching white short-sleeve dress shirts, white socks, black dress shoes, and apron/dresses. The only difference lies in the color of the dresses. Catherine wears pink and Marie-Anne blue. They are young enough that these are dresses that their mother no doubt chose and they obediently put on. Marie-Anne has no other wardrobe shift which suggests a lack of emotional, mental, physical, or status growth as a character when compared to Marie-Catherine and Anne. Catherine's only wardrobe shift is when she ventures down into the forbidden chamber in a white nightgown that mirrors a nightgown that MarieCatherine wore. As she walks through the blood barefoot and collects congealed blood onto the white floor length fabric of her gown, she has the potential for growth. Too soon she returns to her pink dress and forgets the journey to the forbidden chamber. The dress has too much history,

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too many behavioral patterns, and too many fairy tale inspired morals and cultural norms attached to it. The pull of the dress is too strong. If fairy tales specify with extraordinary precision and economy a cultures prototypical quest for identity; they are par excellence narratives of initiation, becoming, and maturity (Seifert 2). Then the dress hinders the initiation of change that will allow the girls to mature into thoughtful, unburdened individuals. As long as fairy tales teach outdated messages, the movie seems to suggest outdated belief systems and power schema will be transmitted from the tales to the modern consumer. The piano, the artwork, and Perraults book of fairy tales are examples of props that are used to convey systematically powerful potential of fairy tales. The piano and the art work can be considered stand-ins for princess heroines. Princess heroines are bound by a system of rewards that is based on being beautiful, being chosen, and getting rich (Liebermann 387). The piano and the blue can both be seen first in humbler settings, the piano in Marie-Catherines former home and the artwork. These items draw the eye because they are pieces of aesthetic beauty. While the piano has a more general function when Marie-Catherine and Anne create music, music is not a necessity. When the piano and the same artwork are found in Bluebeards castle the items become chosen. It is here that it becomes clear that the system of rewards falters. The artwork and the piano cannot as inanimate objects get rich. There new position in the space of the fairy tale leads to a loss. At the castle they are surrounded by beauty and majesty. At their more mundane former homes they were some of the only items of beauty. The shift makes their craftsmanship less impressive, and therefore, worth less. As objects they have no choice what space they inhabit, therefore it can be surmised that the system of rewards is an entity that does not squabble over such mundane matters as the personal fulfillment of the heroines. Riches, luxury, plush areas of living are supposed to lead to happiness, so there is an assumption that it

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will. It is through the book that the system of reward is presented to the young impressionable Marie-Anne and Catherine. They tease out the system of rewards, but are incapable of understanding the imperfection of the system that the viewer can see through observing the props. This system gives authors that have been dead for ages the power to slither through the ages, powerful because the consumers do not realize that they are allowing the course of their lives to be influenced by these long dead authors. It becomes clear through the viewing of Catherine Breillats Bluebeard that fairy tales have the potential to teach modern consumers archaic and outdated systems of behavior, as well as morals that can damaging to physical, mental, and emotional growth. It is through fairy tales that family relations, the goal of marriage, and the ideal happy endings are learned by modern readers as they watch their favorite heroines wander through their tales passively all the while competing with siblings and vilifying their parents. In this chilling retelling viewers are presented with the ugly truth about fairy tales.

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Works Cited Bottigheimer, Ruth B. Grimms' Bad Girls & Bold Boys: The Moral & Social Vision of the Tales. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. Print. Joosen, V. (2005). Fairy-tale retellings between art and pedagogy. Childrens Literature in Education,36 (2), 129139. Liebermann, Marcia K. "'some Day My Prince Will Come': Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale." Don't Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Fairy Tales in North America and England. (1986). Print Seifert, Lewis C. Fairy Tales, Sexuality, and Gender in France, 1690-1715: Nostalgic Utopias. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print. Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1987. Print. Yue, G. "Two Sleeping Beauties." Film Quarterly. 65.3 (2012): 33-37. Print. Zipes, Jack. Don't Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England. New York: Routledge, 1989. Print.

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Zipes, Jack. The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films. New York: Routledge, 2011. Internet resource. Garcia, M. "Rewriting Fairy Tales, Revisiting Female Identity: an Interview with Catherine Breillat." Cineaste. 36.3 (2011): 32-45. Print. Perrault, Charles, A E. Johnson, Gustave Dore, and Charles Perrault. Perrault's Fairy Tales. New York: Dover Publications, 1969. Print.