3 January 2022

Barbet Schroeder's Maîtresse (1975)

The pronunciation of the 't' in 'Barbet' is entirely optional, although the watching of this film without cuts was strictly limited to a very few people right up to 2003. Why? Well, we might wonder because the sexual content of this film – essentially a fictional exploration of sado-masochism, pain and pleasure, seems very tame fare today, but of course it takes time for legal processes to come into practice.

Here is a young and naive Olivier (Gérard Depardieu) freshly arrived in the centre of Paris, joining his mate with whom he intends to stay until he gets himself fixed, and they're off doing door-to-door sales of art books. But they don't have much luck until they come upon Ariane (Bulle Ogier) in her plush apartment. On learning that the apartment downstairs is empty, Olivier's pal (rather reluctantly on Olivier's part) decides that they should see what's on (robbing) offer downstairs.

But they're caught in the act because the lower apartment belongs to Ariane too: as a prostitute not of her own body but the exploitation of others' via sado-masochism, this is her den that the duo have stumbled on. And soon Olivier is casting his chum aside for the luxurious pleasures that Ariane has to offer: he's by no means taking advantage of her though, because he's hopelessly smitten. And so is Ariane, who finds it difficult to cope with mixed sensations: after all, Olivier is her lover and has no part in the sado-masochistic side of things.

In fact, apart from the nailing of genitals (which we don't actually see) the most disturbing part of this film is the (obviously real) stunning and bleeding of a horse for the purpose of meat: Olivier used to work in an abattoir. And this banned film is in fact a tender love story, almost ending in the deaths of the two main characters in an instance of orgasm and car crash, following Olivier's discovery that the mysterious Gautier (Holger Löwenadler) isn't in fact Ariane's pimp. I enjoyed this far more than Schroeder's More and La Vallée, and it seems almost a criminal offense that the viewing of the full version of Maîtresse was disallowed for such a long time.

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