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Bluebeard filters folktale through one of filmmaking’s most provocative sensibilities

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters has us thinking about fractured fairy tales.

Bluebeard (2009) 
Often cited as the father of the fairy tale, 17th-century French writer Charles Perrault spun common folklore and his own personal experiences into fanciful literature, later collected as Mother Goose Tales. Controversial French filmmaker Catherine Breillat has followed Perrault’s lead in her two big-screen adaptations of his work—2009’s Bluebeard and 2010’s The Sleeping Beauty—by combining his original stories with other folktales and a fair bit of her own unique bite. The Sleeping Beauty starts with the basics of Perrault’s narrative—young girl is cursed and falls into long slumber—and crosses it with the legend of “The Snow Queen,” as the movie follows its heroine around the globe for allusive conversations about maturation with colorful princes and princesses. Breillat’s Bluebeard, too, is both a classic story and a meditation on deeper feminist themes, considering sexual awakening and sisterly love.

Bluebeard is blessedly economical, taking only 80 minutes to tell parallel stories: one about the famous gynocidal lord, and one about two sisters (modeled after Breillat and her own sister) reading about the famous gynocidal lord. In the first story, Breillat toys with the dreamy and the mundane, contrasting the romantic vision of a medieval castle with the cold reality of what goes on inside: a lot of sexual negotiating and longs walks up tight circular stairwells. In the second story, Breillat toys with the audience, getting viewers used to these two girls as puckish commentators, before unexpectedly revealing that they have a plot of their own. If nothing else, Bluebeard leaves audiences with a lot to contemplate regarding sibling rivalry, marital contracts, the true meaning of fairy tales, and the cruelty of narrative. 

Availability: Bluebeard is available on DVD from Strand, and streaming from multiple subscription services.