Film at Lincoln Center announces “Carnal Knowledge: The Films of Catherine Breillat,” a retrospective of Catherine Breillat’s films, to be presented at FLC from June 21–27, in anticipation of the theatrical release of Last Summer on June 28 at FLC with the director in person for a sneak preview on June 26. 

Perhaps no filmmaker has so audaciously explored female sexuality and the politics of sex as has Catherine Breillat. An accomplished novelist, screenwriter (cowriting films by Maurice Pialat, Marco Bellocchio, and Liliana Cavani, to name a few), and actress (whose first on-screen role was in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris), Breillat has been one of French cinema’s most fearless provocatrices, an artist obsessed with questions of intimacy and desire whose hypnotic and constantly surprising work rises to nothing less than the level of philosophy. Across a nearly 50-year career, Breillat’s films have unapologetically depicted, dissected, and condemned the plight of the female subject in a world dominated by violent, possessive, insecure, and self-interested men, through a compelling variety of angles, genres, perspectives, and stylistic approaches. On the occasion of the release of her latest, Last Summer (a Sideshow/Janus Films release and an NYFF61 selection), Film at Lincoln Center presents a comprehensive retrospective dedicated to this intrepid iconoclast, with appearances by Breillat herself.

Born in Bressuire, France, Breillat moved to Paris as an adolescent and published her first novel at 17, The Opening, and in 1976, moved behind the camera to direct an adaptation of that novel. Containing explicit depictions of a young woman’s first sexual experiences, the resulting film, A Real Young Girl, was shelved for more than two decades due to concerns surrounding its content. After her sophomore directorial effort Nocturnal Uproar (1979), Breillat spent the next decade writing both screenplays and literary fiction. She returned to the director’s chair in 1988 for 36 Fillette, also adapted from her own novel. After three more films, Breillat gained international acclaim for the controversial Romance (1999), which was edited significantly for its U.S. mainstream release, and the critically lauded Fat Girl (2001), which cemented her reputation as an international arthouse auteur. Last Summer (2023) is Breillat’s first film in a decade; it premiered in competition at the 76th Cannes Film Festival.

Organized by Florence Almozini and Dan Sullivan.

Special thanks to Janus Films.

Tickets for “Carnal Knowledge: The Films of Catherine Breillat” go on sale on Friday, May 31 at 2pm, with an early access period for FLC Members starting Friday, May 31 at noon. Tickets are $17; $14 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $12 for FLC Members. See more and save with a 3+ Film Package ($15 for GP; $12 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $10 for FLC Members). Note: Last Summer is not included in 3+ Film Package.

FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All films screen at the Francesca Beale Theater (144 W 65th Street) with select films screening at the Walter Reade Theater (165 W 65th Street)

New 4K Restoration
A Real Young Girl / Une vraie jeune fille
Catherine Breillat, France, 1976, 93m
French with English subtitles

A Real Young Girl

Catherine Breillat’s first feature—adapted from her own novel, Le soupirail—endures as one of the boldest and most provocative debuts in French cinema after the New Wave. Alice (Charlotte Alexandra) is a 14-year-old girl home from boarding school for the summer; as she comes to terms with her own burgeoning sexuality, she meets Jim (Hiram Keller), a young man who works for her father, with whom she enters into an increasingly transgressive and sexually experimental relationship. Filmed in 1976 but suppressed for censorship concerns until it was released in 2000, A Real Young Girl is an astonishing first stab at the themes and motifs that would find expression time and again throughout Breillat’s filmography. 4K restoration.
Saturday, June 22 at 2:00pm
Thursday, June 27 at 6:30pm

Nocturnal Uproar / Tapage nocturne
Catherine Breillat, France, 1979, 35mm, 94m
French with English subtitles

Nocturnal Uproar

Breillat’s second feature furthers her project of melding cinema and autofiction to explore the outer limits of female desire. Here the protagonist is Solange (Dominique Laffin), a filmmaker who compulsively takes on new paramours (including a bisexual actor, played by Joe Dallesandro) in search of a passion that is absent from her marriage. She begins an affair with another filmmaker named Bruno (Bertrand Bonvoisin), but their sexual relationship is marked by a curious set of rules in an attempt to reclaim the feeling of their first night together each time they have sex. As with much of Breillat’s work to follow, Nocturnal Uproar is a fearless and oneiric portrait of one woman’s attempt to answer the most fundamental of questions: what does she want?
Sunday, June 23 at 1:00pm
Wednesday, June 26 at 1:30pm at the Walter Reade Theater

New 4K Restoration
36 Fillette
Catherine Breillat, France, 1988, 88m
French with English subtitles

36 Fillette

Adapted from her own novel, 36 Fillette ranks as one of Breillat’s signature films and another sophisticated, unsentimental portrait of a young woman’s sexual coming of age. Lili (Delphine Zentout) is a 14-year-old on a camping trip with her parents in Biarritz; precocious and curious, Lili tests the limits of her ability to exert power over men while at the same time growing increasingly anxious to lose her own virginity. She soon crosses paths with Maurice (Etienne Chicot), a depressive, aging playboy with whom she entertains the idea of having sex, though his misogyny threatens to thwart her desire. Also featuring memorable appearances by French New Wave icons Jean-Pierre Léaud and Jean-François Stévenin. 4K restoration.
Saturday, June 22 at 4:00pm
Thursday, June 27 at 8:30pm

Dirty Like an Angel / Sale comme un ange
Catherine Breillat, France, 1991, 35mm, 105m
French with English subtitles

Dirty Like an Angel

Desire and the law become endlessly entangled in Breillat’s drama about a gruff 50-year-old cop named Georges (Claude Brasseur) who finds himself helping a criminal (Claude-Jean Philippe) whom he has known since they were young. Enlisting a junior colleague, Didier (Nils Tavernier), to keep an eye on the criminal’s family, Georges simultaneously begins an affair with Didier’s young wife Barbara (Lio), and consequently the situation these characters are embroiled in grows ever messier. A complex, parable-like examination of how male-male relations mirror and differ from male-female relations, Dirty Like an Angel is yet another provocative work on the possibility of being together in a social world marked so profoundly by yearning and lust.
Sunday, June 23 at 3:15pm
Wednesday, June 26 at 3:30pm at the Walter Reade Theater

New 4K Restoration
Perfect Love / Parfait amour!
Catherine Breillat, France, 1996, 115m
French with English subtitles

Perfect Love

An unsettling yet hypnotic portrait of love at its most toxic, Perfect Love chronicles the explosive, protracted demise of a fling. Twice-divorced optician Frédérique (Isabelle Renauld) falls for the much younger Christophe (Francis Renaud), but loses her patience with his irrepressible insecurity and possessiveness. But as time goes on, she finds herself increasingly attached to their hideously codependent relationship precisely because of and not despite its abundant toxicity. Intelligently and fearlessly depicting the dark side of romantic connection, Perfect Love is Breillat at her most incisive. 4K restoration.
Friday, June 21 at 3:30pm
Monday, June 24 at 6:00pm

Romance
Catherine Breillat, France, 1999, 99m
French with English subtitles

Romance

Arguably her most controversial film to date at the time of its release (and that’s really saying something), Romance remains one of Breillat’s signature achievements and is a perversely neat encapsulation of many of her political and aesthetic concerns. School teacher Marie (Caroline Ducey) has grown bored of her all-too-bourgeois relationship with Paul (Sagamore Stévenin); one morning, at a bar, she meets Paolo (adult film actor Rocco Siffredi), with whom she has sex, inaugurating a harrowing Sadean journey from which Marie will learn more than she could have expected both about herself and her place in a misogynistic world fueled by desire and ruled through violence.
Sunday, June 23 at 5:30pm
Tuesday, June 25 at 2:00pm

Fat Girl / À ma soeur!
Catherine Breillat, France, 2000, 35mm, 86m
French with English subtitles

Fat Girl

An appropriately boundary-pushing follow-up to Romance, Fat Girl is still considered by many to be Breillat’s magnum opus. Overweight 12-year-old Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) sullenly spends a languorous summer holiday in the seaside town of Les Mathes trailing after her indifferent mother (Arsinée Khanjian) and seductive older sister Elena (Roxane Mesquida), a heralded beauty whom Anaïs both loves and loathes. They meet an Italian law student who has eyes for Elena, setting into motion a series of events by which Anaïs’s violent sexual fantasies and tendency toward self-abjection threaten to annihilate reality as she knows it. An NYFF38 selection. A Janus Films release.
Saturday, June 22 at 6:00pm
Wednesday, June 26 at 9:00pm at the Walter Reade Theater – Q&A with Catherine Breillat

Sex Is Comedy
Catherine Breillat, France/Portugal, 2002, 95m
French and Portuguese with English subtitles

Sex is Comedy

Perhaps Breillat’s most autobiographical film, Sex Is Comedy finds the director returning to her experience shooting her seminal provocation, 2001’s Fat Girl. The film stars Anne Parillaud as Jeanne, a filmmaker who is struggling to direct a sex scene between two actors (Grégoire Colin and Fat Girl’s Roxane Mesquida) who can’t stand one another. Sex Is Comedy represents Breillat at her most playful and lighthearted, but its sense of humor is inextricable from the seriousness of its meditation upon cinema’s relationship with eroticism and the politics of filming intimacy.
Saturday, June 22 at 8:00pm
Monday, June 24 at 4:00pm

Anatomy of Hell / Anatomie de l’enfer
Catherine Breillat, France/Portugal, 2004, 77m
French with English subtitles

Anatomy of Hell

A spiritual sequel to Romance, her landmark study of female sexuality in a violently misogynistic world, Anatomy of Hell is Breillat at her most stripped-down and elemental. The film stars Amira Casar as an anonymous woman who, after attempting suicide, hires a gay man (Romance’s Rocco Siffredi) to spend four days with her exploring the outermost limits of sexuality outside of the constraints of polite society. Reminiscent of both the Marquis de Sade and Bertolt Brecht, Anatomy of Hell is one of Breillat’s most direct yet formally fascinating examinations of how men and women view each other through the prism of the flesh.
Sunday, June 23 at 8:00pm
Tuesday, June 25 at 4:15pm

The Last Mistress / Une vieille maîtresse
Catherine Breillat, France/Italy, 2007, 104m
French with English subtitles

The Last Mistress

Breillat’s sumptuous adaptation of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Une vieille maîtresse may be set in the reign of the “citizen king” Louis Philippe, but this dangerous liaison is recognizably modern. Disrupting cinematic as well as social conventions, Asia Argento gives an extraordinary performance in the title role as, as the film puts it, “a capricious flamenca who can outstare the sun”—not to mention outmaneuver her erotic rival (Roxane Mesquida). The two women vie for the heart of Ryno de Marigny (Fu’ad Aït Aattou), who wishes to close the book on his affair with Argento’s sultry mistress in order to wed Mesquida’s comparatively innocent maiden. Argento holds the screen with the force of her carnality, which may be precisely Breillat’s point. An NYFF45 selection.
Friday, June 21 at 6:00pm
Thursday, June 27 at 4:00pm

Bluebeard / Barbe Bleue
Catherine Breillat, France, 2009, 78m
French with English subtitles

Bluebeard

Breillat’s bloody chamber piece takes an outrageously deadpan approach to Charles Perrault’s grisly bedtime story about the aristocratic ogre who marries and murders a series of wives. Her Bluebeard is a middle-aged behemoth, easily four times the size of his child bride. The fairy tale is acted out in a 16th-century setting and explicated, often hilariously, by a contemporary pair of young sisters. The more sexually curious of the two is named Catherine, and the movie’s double ending, while not exactly Perrault, is pure Breillat. An idiosyncratic follow-up to her sensuously carnal, literary period piece The Last Mistress, Bluebeard is a perversely chaste and highly personal adaptation of Perrault’s classic fairy tale. An NYFF47 selection.
Tuesday, June 25 at 6:30pm

The Sleeping Beauty / La belle endormie
Catherine Breillat, France, 2010, 82m
French with English subtitles

Sleeping Beauty

Breillat follows up her beguiling Bluebeard with another boldly revisionist fairy tale based on the work of Charles Perrault. Cursed by a bitter old hag to prick her finger and die on her 16th birthday, the young princess Anastasia has her sentence reduced by a trio of kindlier witches, instead falling into a deep sleep and remaining there for the next 100 years. While in slumber, Anastasia comes of age through a series of vivid dreams (filled with charming princes, dwarves, gypsies, and magical creatures). Then she reawakens a fully formed adolescent, and finds that in real life happy endings are more elusive than in our fantasies. Beautifully designed by François-Renaud Labarthe and photographed by the great Denis Lenoir (Carlos), The Sleeping Beauty is a constantly surprising, thought-provoking investigation of the female psyche.
Tuesday, June 25 at 8:15pm

Abuse of Weakness / Abus de faiblesse
Catherine Breillat, France, 2013, 105m
French with English subtitles

Abuse of Weakness

In 2004, at the age of 56, Catherine Breillat suffered a serious stroke. Her left side was initially paralyzed, and after five months in the hospital she worked like a demon to walk again. Not long after, she prepared an adaptation of her novel Bad Love and decided to cast the notorious “swindler of the stars,” Christophe Rocancourt, fresh from a jail term for fraud. Over the next several months, Rocancourt took advantage of Breillat’s condition and stood by her side as she wrote him checks amounting to €650,000. She later took him to court and won her case, and chronicled the experience in a book that she then adapted into this uniquely haunting film, with a bold, tough performance by Isabelle Huppert as the Breillat stand-in and French/Portuguese rapper Kool Shen as the con man. An NYFF51 Main Slate selection.
Friday, June 21 at 8:30pm
Thursday, June 27 at 1:45pm

Sneak Preview on June 26, opens June 28
Last Summer
Catherine Breillat, 2023, France, 104m
French with English subtitles

Last Summer. Courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films.

One of the world’s most consistently provocative filmmakers for nearly 50 years, Catherine Breillat proves with her incendiary, compelling new drama that she is not through toying with viewers’ comfort levels. A highlight at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the multi-César Award–nominated Last Summer stars Léa Drucker as Anne, a lawyer who specializes in cases of sexual consent and parental custody. Seemingly happily married to kind-hearted businessman Pierre (Olivier Rabourdin) with adopted twin daughters, Anne inexplicably finds herself drawn to Pierre’s estranged 17-year-old son Théo (Samuel Kircher) after the boy returns home to live with them. Embarking on a passionate affair with the teenager, Anne all too willingly thrusts herself into a maelstrom of attraction, intimidation, and manipulation. Breillat’s incisive latest—written in collaboration with Pascal Bonitzer and featuring original music by Kim Gordon—elegantly surveys the situation’s extreme power dynamics while giving the brilliant Drucker the chance to create a character who exists entirely within her own moral boundaries. An NYFF61 Main Slate selection. A Sideshow/Janus Films release.
Wednesday, June 26 at 6:00pm at the Walter Reade Theater – Q&A with Catherine Breillat