Breillat dissects her film into two distinct parts. The first is a straight(ish) adaptation of Perrault’s folk tale, with all the period detail and literary trappings you’d expect – albeit with some moments of mild extrapolation. Sisters Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton) and Anne (Daphné Baiwir) are recalled from their studies following the death of their father. With financial insecurity weighing heavily on the children and their haggard, newly-widowed mother (Isabelle Lapouge), Marie-Catherine takes up the offer of marriage from affluent local lord Bluebeard (the gargantuan Dominique Thomas), who many believe to be responsible for the murder (and possible cannibalism) of a number of former wives. Showing no fear, Marie-Catherine walks straight into the ‘ogre’s’ den – but will she come out alive?
Inter-cut amongst this central narrative are contemporary scenes depicting two young French girls (Marilou Lopes-Benites, Lola Giovannetti) reading Perrault’s Bluebeard in a dusty attic, with the younger sibling chiding her elder sister for getting scared by some of the text’s more gruesome revelations. As Bluebeard draws to its climax, the two strands are brought together – although the result is not altogether successful.
Whilst Créton, Sissy Spacek-lookalike Baiwir and Thomas all impress during Breillat’s sumptuous, painterly take on Perrault’s dark tale, the modern day sequence feels seriously out of place and, at worse, redundant. The two young actors perform well under the camera’s pressure – belying their tender age – but the strand’s finale may well leave many scratching their heads in confusion.
Bluebeard is at its best when Breillat sets about capturing the essence of her film’s source material through the camera’s viewfinder. There are countless examples of superbly framed shots, be they depicting the gruesome beheading of a live duck or the newly-wedded couple sitting down for a deeply decadent snack (Marie-Catherine tucking into tiny, delicate quail eggs; Bluebeard conversely scoffing a giant Ostrich egg), but for those unfamiliar with wither Breillat or Perrault’s oeuvre, Bluebeard could easily frustrate.