Catherine Breillat

Active - 1972 - 2013  |   Born - Jul 13, 1948 in Bressuire, France  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy Drama, Avant-garde / Experimental

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Biography by Rovi

Author and filmmaker Catherine Breillat has gained a reputation as one of the most controversial women in contemporary arts and letters for her work, which often focuses on the erotic and emotional lives of young women, as told from the woman's perspective. Born in Bressuire, France, in 1948, Breillat developed a reputation for challenging public mores early on; at the age of 17, she published her first novel, L'homme Facile, which became a cause célèbre for its blunt language and open depiction of sexual subject matter. The controversy generated by L'homme Facile gave Breillat enough recognition that she was able to pursue a career as a writer, and between 1968 and 1975, she published three novels and a stage drama, as well as making her acting debut with a small role in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. In 1975, Breillat moved behind the camera by writing, designing, and directing Une Vraie Jeune Fille, which was adapted from one of Breillat's novels. An unexploitive but unusually explicit depiction of the sexual obsessions of an adolescent girl, Une Vraie Jeune Fille generated a certain amount of controversy, which would doubtless have been greater had it found wide release at the time -- financial problems on the part of the film's producers prevented it from receiving a proper launch at the time. After writing two more films (one of them, significantly, was Bilitis, a drama about the sexual awakening of teenage girls directed by erotic photographer David Hamilton) and taking on another acting role in the horror spoof Dracula Père et Fils, Breillat directed her second feature, 1979's Tapage Nocturne, which was also based on one of her novels. The story concerned the obsessive sexual desires of one young woman, and her unblinking depiction of the theme resulted in the film receiving a rating that prevented anyone under 18 from seeing the film, generally the kiss of death at the French box office. After directing two films that had garnered plenty of (often hostile) press but very little money, Breillat's career as a director was put on hold. Breillat continued to write screenplays (including Police and Federico Fellini's E La Nave Va), but it wasn't until 1988 that she was in charge of another feature, 36 Fillette. Depicting the burgeoning sexuality of a 14-year-old girl, and a middle-aged man intent on seducing her, 36 Fillette generated the expected storms of controversy, but it also fared well enough at the box office that Breillat was able to make another film only two years later, Sale Comme un Ange. Breillat's real international breakthrough, though, came in 1999; Romance, concerning a schoolteacher whose relationship with her boyfriend has gone sour, leading her into a variety of sexual liaisons with other men, was one of the first films to play mainstream cinemas in Europe and the United States that clearly depicted explicit intercourse and fellatio, and as a result generated no small amount of press attention. Romance also spawned a number of positive reviews and think pieces in major newspapers and magazines, and finally confirmed Breillat's status as a major filmmaker outside her native France. (The success of Romance also resulted in Une Vraie Jeune Fille finally receiving a belated theatrical and home video release in Europe and the United States.) Breillat once again revisited her favorite themes with her usual degree of intelligence but bold honesty with 2001's A Ma Soeur, which concerns two sisters -- one overweight, one attractive -- who are each coming to unhappy terms with their budding sexuality. She continued with other provocative features including 2003's Anatomy of Hell, 2007's The Last Mistress, Bluebeard from 2008, and Sleeping Beauty in 2010.

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  • Her first novel, L'homme facile, was banned in France for readers under 18 due to its graphic sexual content; Breillat was actually 17 when she wrote the book.
  • Made her acting debut in Last Tango in Paris (1972), which also featured her sister, actress Marie-Hélène Breillat. 
  • Made her directorial debut with a 1975 film about sexual awakening, Une vraie jeune fille. Based on one of her novels, the film wasn't released for some 25 years due to financial and censorship issues.
  • Her works (both novels and films) have often been subject to censorship due to their mature themes.
  • Suffered a stroke in 2004 and was confined to a hospital for five months.
  • Has worked as a professor of auteur cinema at the European Graduate School in Switzerland.