Maîtresse (Barbet Schroeder / France, 1975):

"The way to a woman’s heart is along the path of torment." More generous than the Marquis, Barbet Schroeder extends the words to all of Paris and casually discovers a kinky democracy. The first, unbroken view of Gérard Depardieu motoring through the streets tips its chapeau to Rouch’s long-takes in Gare du Nord (Six in Paris), though it’s that anthropologist’s quizzical curiosity that informs the study. "What I want is to see what’s behind those walls." The meathead sells art books door to door, the cool blonde (Bulle Ogier) invites him in to fix an overflowing bathtub. Trying to rob her lower-floor neighbor’s flat, Depardieu stumbles into a neon-lit den of masks, cages, leashes and whips; a remote-control ladder unfurls and Ogier descends as the S&M grande putain, it’s an upstairs-downstairs gig. She inaugurates their relationship by inviting the befuddled clod to piss on the client licking her boots, and Depardieu’s deadpan as he obliges is a hoot (in the following scene they’re enjoying dinner). "Other people’s madness" is the dominatrix’s business, but romance throws her off her game -- tending to the kinksters in the dungeon, the mistress goes through her litany of abuse ("Dog! You’re in pain, aren’t you? I’ll skin you alive!") until the new emotions make her panic mid-session. ("Some things don’t mix," she later explains.) When the couple drops by a chateau to flagellate the lady of the house, Schroeder’s comedy is as wry and dapper as Buñuel’s, even as the ongoing sense of performance, of people in and out of control, more closely suggests Rivette doing The Story of O. (Ogier’s elegance in head-to-toe leather is remembered in Irma Vep as an extra frisson.) All in all, it’s a disarming affair: an image from Les Enfants Terribles culminates a running gag about the couple’s reckless driving, yet, rather than being punished, the transgressive lovers find their own garden, laughing. With André Rouyer, Nathalie Keryan, Roland Bertin, and Holger Löwenadler.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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