Catherine Breillat is a filmmaker I don't always agree with but always find fascinating. Her launch as an artist began in her teens with the publication of her first novel and it would reflect the controversy that she would continue to stoke throughout her career. That novel was so sexually explicit, she, the seventeen year old author, was not allowed to buy the book. Her first feature film, A Real Young Girl, was largely banned outright and not seen until twenty-five years later. As a feminine film maker who has stated her films are devoid of any masculine psychology, her graphic content and sexual philosophy has put her on the map and made her an film maker that is both applauded and derided by the intelligentsia of the cinema world. Brief Crossing (2001) finds her in a more subdued, but no less expressive mode, than Romance, Fat Girl, or her recent Anatomy of Hell, and falls more in the vein of her first arthouse hit 36 Fillete.
Sixteen year old Thomas (Gilles Guillian) barely makes the ferry. He arrives just before departure with a tattered ID and seems a bit lost. In the ships crowded cafeteria, the French teen meets thirty-something Brit, Alice (Sara Pratt), and the two strangers share a table. Initially, neither of them talk. He huddles over his plate and devours his food. She watches him. She soaks him in. The two begin to converse, and quickly engage in a sparring session, feeling one another out, a flirtation that will lead to a May/December tryst (though, to be fair, their age difference is a little more May/August than May/December).
The film deftly balances naturalism with heavy, verbose commentary and doesn't fall prey to any cuteness, tawdriness, or romanticism that one would associate with a one night stand or May/December romance film. Alice presents herself as a jilted woman, freshly running away from a soured marriage. Thomas carries himself like the teen he is, anxious but determined, and emotionally engaged. But, for one of them, the dynamic of the flirtation is clearly more of a game.Breillat subtly, and not so subtly, inserts little comments about the age difference as well as the difference in the sexes. Thomas wants to be a plastic surgeon, to profit from the fear of aging. Alice pushes her own thoughts on aging, like when they are at a club, she remarks about how as you age you can hold your liquor, and when Thomas asks her to dance (his way of trying to speed up their flirting), she says, "I've outgrown it."
I've seen pretty much all of her films, except for the two latest ones, and I would say, considering its lack of her usual Bataille-ish images, this is Breillat's most accessible film. The performances are quite good, particularly Sara Pratt, who was new to me. I was saddened to find her imdb resume was scant and she is very deserving of some good roles. Pratt ends up a fitting muse for Breillant male/female observations. When she gives one of Alice's monologues about how she has been burned by men, it is the sort of language that could come across as a bitchy tirade. However, Pratt invests it with a casualness and knowing provocation for her (seemingly?) naive liaison.
The DVD: Wellspring.
Picture: Non-Anamorphic Widescreen. Unfortunately the image is very substandard. Aside from the lack of anamorphic enhancement, the image is murky, a combination of middling, low resolution contrast and severe grain.
Sound: Dolby Stereo or 5.1, French (mainly) and English language, with English subtitles for the French dialogue. Extremely rudimentary audio, and this is a film that doesn't require a lot of dynamics. The film is very naturalistic and doesn't have a score.
Extras: Filmographies— Catherine Breillat Interview. Breillat is a great interviewee and giving succinct, intelligent answers about her process and philosophy.— Wellspring weblinks and previews of other titles.
Conclusion: A very fine film with great appeal to those interested in some simple sexual politics told with French flair. The DVD is a disappointment, mainly the image is far from perfect, making it a transfer more high end consumers will want to avoid. But, the film is good and the DVD has an excellent interview with the very interesting director, therefore a rental is the way to go or, at the most, a wary purchase.