"Romance" is a must-see--but only if you're French or planning on becoming a gynecologist.
The film is auteur Catherine Breillat's blabby, kinky, wholly monotonous exercise in Gallic navel-gazing (actually the gazing is further to the south). A critical and box-office hit in France, the graphic tale of a young woman's sexual exploration seems to have lost something in translation. It's pornographic, yet not remotely titillating. And though it's pretentious, it is often unwittingly funny.
Breillat's story focuses on Marie (Caroline Ducey), a self-obsessed, self-loathing grammar school teacher involved with Paul (Sagamore Stevenin), a boring male model who sleeps in his underwear to keep his privates warm. This is a source of constant conflict between the two, though there is a greater issue: He has announced a moratorium on sex, and no matter how she tries, she is unable to arouse his interest. Alas, Marie believes that "a woman is not a woman without a man to fill her . . . um." Well, you get the picture.
So what's a poor mamselle to do?
Have herself a good French whine.
Marie is quite the needy bellyacher and seldom at a loss for words, however meaningless to readers of subtitles. While engaged in soulless sex with a pickup from a local bistro, she muses aloud about love and gender differences. "Women are the victims of men's need for atonement. . . . I hollow myself. That's my purity. It's metaphysical." Huh?
We are treated to further existential drivel every time she returns to Paul's sterile, all-white apartment and attempts to talk him out of his underthings. The director, I'm guessing, is turning les tables by putting a woman in the role of the sexual aggressor. Subsequently, Marie is dominated by Robert (Francois Berleand), the sadomasochistic principal of the grammar school. She listens passively while Robert orates on the cosmic nature of eros. ("Physical love is triviality clashing with the divine." "It is strange, obscenity doesn't bother women.") C'est what?
There is a rape scene, a brothel fantasy, a trip to the OB-GYN in which she undergoes approximately seven pelvic exams, and the piece de resistance (or perhaps it was the lack thereof): Marie gives birth on-camera, a scene that includes close-ups of . . . well, everything but the skin between her toes.
Romance (103 minutes, at the AMC Courthouse 8) is not rated, but contains nudity, profanity and more nudity.