Review by Michael Jacobson
Gerard Depardieu, Bulle Ogier
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: Barbet Schroeder Interview
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: February 3, 2004
fascinating to get into other people’s madness…”
guess if nothing else, Maitresse proves you DO always hurt the ones you
director Barbet Schroeder has been going strong in the movie business for quite
some time now, thank you very much, but it’s probably safe to say that Maitresse
is singularly unique in his filmography.
It’s part romance, part mystery, part black comedy about a young man
and woman who fall in love. She
happens to be a professional dominatrix, but hey, nobody ever said the course of
love runs smoothly.
Olivier (a young Depardieu) reluctantly assists a friend in breaking into a
‘downstairs’ apartment, they find the shock of their lives:
a cold, neon blue dungeon of torture, complete with mirrors, costumes,
dentist chair, cross, cages, and every implement you could imagine (and probably
several you couldn’t). Even more
surprising is when an electric metal staircase descends from the ceiling to
reveal…gasp…that the sweet young lady upstairs they just spoke to is the
mistress of this underworld!
in the act of theft, anything could happen to the fellows, but what happens
isn’t what they expect. The
mistress Ariane (Ogier) asks Olivier to briefly assist her with a client.
Immediately, our minds race to try and guess what’s he’s going to
have to do. And we’re quite
and Olivier begin as normal a relationship as can be had, but needless to say,
it’s all rather surreal for Olivier. Upstairs
is a posh, stylish French apartment and the loving arms of a beautiful woman.
Downstairs is a world of pain and pleasure lorded over by a
whip-cracking, no-nonsense dominatrix. And
both are the same woman.
tries to be dutiful while the lines between fantasy and reality constantly blur.
Ariane’s existence is filled with men who pay her to be her victim; is
he just another one in her eyes? He
becomes obsessed with a distant Godot-like figure called Gautier, whom she never
discusses with him, but who seems to be getting a fair share of her earnings. Is he a pimp, a blackmailer, or something else?
Olivier can’t seem to stand the thought of him having control over
Ariane, but what are his motives? Her
best interests? Or does HE want to
have the control?
is not a film for the squeamish, despite some comic undertones.
Some of the scenes of sadomasochism are quite graphic and
unapologetic…director Barbet Schroeder actually used real mistresses as on set
consultants, and many of the masked victims in the film are real masochists
getting real punishment (you can see red skin, welts and blood in various
is a constant visual theme of depravity lurking underneath the surface, whether
it’s Ariane’s dungeon or an abattoir just in the distance from where horses
roam the fields. We are also
constantly asked to complete the nature of being serviced by others’
suffering: as Ariane makes money by
inflicting pain, we also observe a Venus Flytrap being fed insects, or in the
film’s most disturbing scene, a horse being slaughtered, which is followed by
Olivier ordering and consuming a couple of horsemeat steaks (can I interject a
heartfelt “ewww” here?)
movie is no Salo in that there’s at least a method to the madness, plus
a story to tell and real characters to invest in. The wicked sense of humor adds style to the shock value.
Maitresse may not be the best film to come from overseas, but
it’s the kind of picture that will give you plenty to talk about after.
anamorphic offering from Criterion is quite strong, with good (though
occasionally deliberately muted) coloring, sharp images, crisp lines and good
detail, which you’ll really appreciate when you get a gander at Ariane’s
dungeon! One dark scene seemed a
little murky, but it was brief. The
print itself was very clean and largely free of dirt and debris.
is a serviceable, non-demanding mono soundtrack. Dialogue is in French, but seems clean and clear enough.
Dynamic range is minimal, and I didn’t really notice any distracting
on the disc is a new interview with Barbet Schroeder, plus a cool animated menu