For those of you not up on your French fairytales, let me enlighten you. Charles Perrault wrote many of the classic stories we know today including Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. His stories are very dark and clearly not intended for children; it took Disney to come along and soften them up a bit and turn them mainstream.
Thankfully writer/director Catherine Breillat keeps things classical in Blue Beard, a story that will be familiar to anyone who has read Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’.
Blue Beard follows a young French girl, Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton), who has to marry a wealthy aristocrat in order to save herself and her family from poverty. Her new husband has a fearsome reputation, all his previous wives have mysteriously disappeared and despite fearing for her safety, she agrees to live in his castle. Needless to say, the castle has some pretty weird secrets and when Blue Beard goes away on business, he trusts his young bride with the keys to every door, including the golden key to a door he forbids her to open.
The story bounces back and forth between the fairytale and the real world where two young sisters are reading the story aloud to each other. This is an interesting way to narrate and move the story along but it divides the viewer’s attention and dilutes the effect of both storylines causing the 80 minute running time to somehow drag as the story meanders along. Not even the dual worlds seem capable of giving the plot the boost it needs.
Low production values also diminishes the impact of the story; the film sometimes looks like a college production with a slightly bigger budget. The sets are small and minimalist, the oppulence that Blue Beard’s castle is supposed to hold is never realised effectively and the costumes often give the feel of dress-up time in a drama class. However, these aesthetic obstacles don’t entirely negate the film’s good points – Lola Créton is an intriguing actress who flits easily between being calculated and vulnerable, keeping the audience guessing about her true feelings for Blue Beard.
Most impressive of the young actresses was Marilou Lopes-Benites as the youngest sister trying to frighten her sister with the story of Blue Beard. Her excitable nature breathes life into the film and is the only real spark in this failed fairytale. On the whole, Breillat fails to keep Perrault’s original darkness and sexuality in tact and instead creates an intriguing but endlessly dull film.