July 13, 1948
Director, Screenwriter, Author, Actor
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Dubbed "the bad girl intellectual of French cinema" by Amy Taubin of the Village Voice, writer-director Catherine Breillat seemingly has courted controversy since her career began. While still in her teens, she published her first novel, the erotic "L'Homme facile," which was not sold to anyone in France under 18 years of age. Breillat's film acting debut was alongside her sister Marie-Helene in 1973's frank and groundbreaking "Last Tango in Paris," helmed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Her own feature directorial debut based on one of her novels, "Une Vraie jeune fille," was originally shot in 1975 but through a combination of the bankruptcy of her producers and its shocking content that caused it to be banned, the film did not receive a release for 25 years. As with several of her works, "Une Vraie jeune fille" centered on the sexual coming of age of a woman -- here a 14-year-old boarding school student. Over the next decade, Breillat continued to make her mark as both a fiction writer and in films. She penned the story for and contributed to the script of "Police" (1985), a cop drama-cum-romance starring Gerard Depardieu and Sophie Marceau.Breillat gained a measure of international attention with "36 Fillette" (1988), yet another finely observed tale of a teenage girl's awakening to her sensuality. She has stated that her inspiration for this film came from repeated viewings of the 1956 movie "Baby Doll." For Breillat, one of the central issues in the male-female dynamic stems from the manner in which a woman must learn harsh truths about sexuality. "In love, the respect of a man is the worst humiliation a girl could experience," she has written. Indeed, one of the recurring motifs in her work is the heroine's sense of shame regarding her sexuality. Breillat revisited it in "Parfait amour!" (1996) and more baldly in "Romance" (1999). The latter proved quite controversial as it straddled the fine line between art and pornography. The filmmaker's more untraditional approach to her material (which hearkens back to Godard and Cassavetes) set her apart from most of her contemporaries. In her personal and idiosyncratic features, Breillat continued to push the envelope. "A ma soeur/Fat Girl" (2001) revisited was yet another graphic exploration of an underage girl's attempt to lose her virginity. When it screened at Berlin, audiences and critics were divided in reaction to it, with some hailing the film while others felt the director had begun to repeat herself and ran the risk of falling into self-parody.