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[whitespace] François Berleand and Caroline Ducey Healthful Necessity: François Berleand and Caroline Ducey take the fun out of sex.

Boiling Down Sex

Boredom is the price to pay for mild titillation in scandalous 'Romance'

By Richard von Busack

MEEK LITTLE Marie (Caroline Ducey) suffers through a doomed romance--hence the title of director Catherine Breillat's new film--with a self-centered male model named Paul (Sagamore Stevenin). Paul refuses to have sex with Marie, even though they live together, and he refuses to explain why he's cut her off, too, with no more apology than flat phrases such as "Anyway, that's how it is."

As a result, Marie is half pushed, half dropped into a variety of highly explicit sexual adventures in Paris. She picks up Paolo (Rocco Siffredi, a handsome Italian porn star); in turn, she's picked up by Robert, the urbane but homely principal of the elementary school where she teaches.

François Berleand's Robert is amusing, tying Marie up in complex knots with ropes and handcuffs--a lot of effort to awaken such slight desire in the benighted girl. Romance has it that Marie endures these experiences--and more--because she's cheating with her body but not with her heart.

It's the old story, in short: Oh, you women, half saint, half whore! ("Here's hoping I get the half that eats!"--Woody Allen's Boris, informed of that hoary [whory] dichotomy by Diane Keaton's Sonia in 1975's Love and Death.)

Romance comes to town with a bit of notoriety because it slides into the realm of hard-core; in an early scene, Marie gives Paul some head ("faire un pipe" is the useful French phrase). Shocked viewers who have forgotten Marco Bellochio's scandalous Devil in the Flesh from 1986 will talk of taboos broken. But what was said of that film can be said of this: it isn't much of a blow job; then again, it isn't much of an erection.

Later in the film, things heat up a little. The male actors aren't faking their arousal, though Ducey still endures the sex as if it were a healthful necessity, like an enema. Doesn't it seem to be the rule: you can display sex in a nonporn movie, so long as no one enjoys it? I was titillated, yes--but at what a cost of boredom.

Marie's endless ratcheting on the dialectics of sex boils down to the following: Men want to annihilate women through mounting them, and women go along with it because their inner desire is to be a nothing, a hole. Hypocritically, women deny this truth of their own nullity, but men understand it; and they do the vacant women a favor by stuffing them.

Best of all, though, for a woman is to be stuffed with a baby. Says Marie, "A woman isn't a woman until she has a child." The most banal ideas always look better in subtitles, just as liverwurst always looks better when you call it paté. And the ideas expressed in Romance are sheer liverwurst.

'Romance' (R; 95 min.), written and directed by Catherine Breillat, photographed by Yorgos Avanitis and starring Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stevenin and François Berleand, opens Friday at the Camera One in San Jose and the Park in Menlo Park.

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From the September 30-October 6, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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