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Bluebeard (2010)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/20/10 12:07:44

"Bloodless 'Bluebeard'."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

I don't think there have been any musical animated adaptations of "Bluebeard", and the reason why is pretty obvious: Once you remove the sex and violence to make it family-friendly, there isn't much left at all. Surprisingly, given her reputation, director Catherine Breillat avoids the lurid nature of this fable for as long as she can, before draining the fun right out of it.

Once upon a time, there were two sisters, Anne (Daphné Baiwir) and Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton), who were summarily sent home from boarding school after their father's death meant their tuition will no longer be paid. They look to have no prospects, at least until invited to a party by a local noble (Dominique Thomas), whom the ladies shy away from because of his bizarre blue beard. Well, and because he's old and fat. Oh, and, right, there's the little matter of how he seems to take a new wife each year because he allegedly murders them. Still, younger sister Marie-Catherine is undeterred; she sees something in him other than grotesquerie and might even be strong-willed enough to live with him - at least, until he leaves on a trip to the provinces, giving her they keys to the castle but saying she must never use that one...

Soon, we see that the tale is being told by two more modern sisters exploring their attic, Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti) and Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites), with precocious younger sister Catherine teasing Marie-Anne for getting scared. These scenes seem a bit like padding, at least at first, but it's easily forgiven because these are cute kids, behaving in a way that sisters do, with Catherine clever for her age but not adult-smart. They're fun digressions.

They have to be, because the main story, the one about Bluebeard and his child bride, is awfully boring. It's a half-hour into this rather short feature (about 80 minutes) before we even meet the title character, and while what we see before then - Anne, Marie-Catherine, and their mother (Isabelle Lapouge) feeling some friction in the aftermath of the death the girls' father - is believable and well-enough acted, it's establishing relationships that will be more or less dropped when the action moves to the castle. Once there, there's no tension; Bluebeard is too much a cipher to generate even discomfort with his child bride, and his wife-killing habits have been stated too matter-of-factly for there to be anything surprising or shocking as things go on.

Bluebeard was made with an eye toward television, and while that's not the insult it was in the twentieth century, it still has a tight-budget look that suggests the world ends just outside of the frame. Indeed, toward the end, there's a set of shots that emphasize this (the same dozen or so steps are used for multiple "levels" of a spiral staircase), to the point of self-parody. That's not the only strange thing happening during the last act; Breillat's decisions just get weird as the movie lopes to its conclusion. It's a disjointed strangeness, though - crossing the two threads here, pointing up the artificiality of a shot there, completely random event there - which serves not to impress, but to distance.

And the movie doesn't need that attempted (and wasted) cleverness. There's a solid cast working the fairy tale portion of the story; Lola Créton in particular handles everything thrown at her as Marie-Catherine, a curious teenager whose intelligence doesn't prevent her from experiencing pure joy at finally being able to have new and nice things. Daphné Baiwir is also very good as the more volatile and conventional older sister; it's a shame that she becomes so superfluous as the movie goes on. Dominique Thomas makes for a courtly and too-restrained Bluebeard, but Isabelle Lapouge is almost darkly funny as the girls' pessimistic widowed mother.

The cast is good enough that they could have done something exciting if Breillat had chosen just to tell the story of Bluebeard, or picked a tangent and run with it. Instead, she has drained it of excitement, substituting weak gimmicks. Rather than a fairy tale, this "Bluebeard" becomes a riddle not worth figuring out.

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