A literary folktale published by Charles Perrault in Paris, 1697. Perrault’s version incorporates morals and themes written to appeal to the late-17th century Parisian aristocracy of his time:
Class hierarchy (the superiority of wealth and nobility)
Status and marital relationships (dependent on a man’s wealth)
Strict gender roles and subsequent power dynamics
Expectations, obedience, secrecy, curiosity and consequence in marriage
“Happily ever after” ending
Catherine Breillat is a feminist director famous for her distinctively personal films on sexuality, gender hierarchies, and sibling rivalry.
Approaches the story from the subjective experience of the adolescent sisters and focuses on the exploration of female childhood curiosity and its consequences
Breillat’s realist approach makes the question of fidelity to Perrault’s fairytale very questionable. Major characters and situations are mostly the same, but the context,
structural presentation, character developments and ending are certainly not.
In Breillat’s starkly realist version, nobody wins
Breillat unveils and emphasizes the complexity of reality, people, and their motives. Breillat shows that while gender and class hierarchies exist, women are not always passive, blameless damsels and that class mobility does exist
Role reversal and gender twists
Bluebeard is a cold-hearted monster in Perrault’s version, but Breillat depicts him as misunderstood, somewhat insecure, and nurturing in a way. Marie-Catherine actually likes the blue beard. It is she that is seen as calculating, manipulative, demanding, and confident.
Breillat adds much more of a religious context in her adaptation, with the references quite literally placed from the beginning through the end.
Focus is on the relationship between both set of sisters: the fictional Marie Catherine and Anne and the narrators Catherine and Marie-Anne
Perrault’s Bluebeard is framed within Breillat’s larger narrative of the two adolescent sisters, illustrating the parallels between the two storylines and the relationship between the two sisters
In the climax, the real world and fictional world overlap to essentially indicate foreshadowing and that the two younger sisters are one in the same. The central sibling rivalry functions to show us binary-oppositions—the two pairs of sisters, “both caught in an ambivalent love-hate relationship… homeliness and beauty, pragmatism and romanticism, realism and fantasy.” (Wheatley: 2009)