Catherine Breillat pushes the boundaries with her stepmother-stepson relationship in new film

Catherine Breillat pushes the boundaries with her stepmother-stepson relationship in new film
Catherine Breillat pushes the boundaries with her 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, claiming that 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 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), risks her career and her marriage by starting a secret relationship 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 one by Todd Haynes May December. Haynes’ film, inspired by the true story of a teacher’s relationship with her student, portrays the young man as a victim dealing 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 portrayal to be much more compelling than society’s moralistic narratives,” he 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 almost fifty-year career, which includes acting in Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial film Last tango in Parisfemale sexuality was central to Breillat’s work.

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

Despite his courageous exploration of desire, Breillat has often faced criticism in France, where he believes his work is undervalued. She believes his career might not exist without the positive reception in English-speaking countries.

When he released his 1988 film 36 Filletfeaturing a forty-year-old playboy manipulating a fourteen-year-old girl, French critics labeled it «the worst French film ever made».

«I was criticized for having a male lead 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 is not about carnal pleasure. “This film is about the dark side of desire,” she said.

Last summer includes three sex scenes between Anne and Théo, but their nudity is intentionally off-screen. “They don’t get their bodies back,” Breillat explained. “The transcendent emotions they feel are visible only 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 concern the core of our existence?» she asked.