Maitresse (1976)

Maitresse (1976)

“It’s fascinating to get into people’s madness so intimately.”

When a petty thief (Gerard Depardieu) breaks into an apartment owned by an S&M dominatrix (Bulle Ogier), he quickly falls for her and the pair begin living together as lovers — but can Olivier (Depardieu) handle the mystery of not knowing who Ariane’s mysterious, wealthy friend Gautier (Holger Löwenadler) is?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbet Schroeder Films
  • French Films
  • Gerard Depardieu Films
  • S&M
  • Strong Females
  • Thieves and Criminals

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “perverse romance” by Barbet Schroeder — who “never chooses ordinary material” — features “appealing” leads and “has definite shock value,” given that “a real dominatrix was hired to be Ogier’s double during the S&M scenes and to actually torture and humiliate real-life masochists.”

However, he argues that “while Schroeder presents a bizarre relationship, he says nothing new about male-female power struggles” unless he’s “saying that even the most bizarre relationships have the same old problems as the most mundane relationships.”

Peary asserts that “Schroeder’s theme is unclear”, and “worse, it’s obvious… we’re supposed to see that Ogier has a dual personality (much like Kathleen Turner in Crimes of Passion), yet are never provided with sufficient insight into either side,” meaning that “why she is as she is remains a mystery.”

I don’t see Ogier’s Ariane as having a “dual personality” so much as being a complex and conflicted person with unique skills and desires. We never do fully understand the “why” behind her career, but we’re not meant to; rather, the story is focused on Depardieu’s (Olivier’s) desperate need to understand what he’s stumbled into. He’s clearly intrigued by S&M, and one of the films strengths is showing us what seems like a reasonably accurate portrayal of how this world plays out, with secrecy, compacts, and hidden identities all critical components:

When Depardieu can’t abide by these rules, he jeopardizes the entire enterprise, leading to the film’s tense ending. Ogier’s lead performance is particularly noteworthy, showing us the complexity of emotions — both authentic and enacted — required to carry out this kind of work. She alone makes it worth a one-time look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Bulle Ogier as Ariane
  • Gerard Depardieu as Olivier
  • Nestor Almendros’ cinematography
  • Fine sets and production design

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for one-time viewing given its historical relevance — and for Ogier’s performance.


2 thoughts on “Maitresse (1976)

  1. Rewatch (6/28/21). Skip it.

    Schroeder wasn’t kidding with this extremely dull, pretentious exposé of the S-M scene. Apparently in a pitch to be controversial, the film managed to get into trouble with a few censor boards. But it’s a lumbering bore – one that seems to show there is nothing remotely interesting about this underground lifestyle (except maybe to psychoanalysts).

    The pace is irritatingly languid, the script is hardly incisive, the acting is meh. DP Almendros’ marvelous use of light gives the film more dignity than it deserves. Seemingly calculated to be an art-house flavor-of-the-month, the film’s ridiculous conclusion proves it really had very little on its shallow mind.

    When my bud Tom & I watched this one night, we laughed ourselves silly – for the wrong reasons.

  2. I think I like to psychoanalyze. 😉

    Ogier’s performance drew me in. If there are people who want this kind of thing done to them — and, of course, there are — plenty — then who has the stamina and will to do it? The movie tries to get at that, a bit (i.e., in Ogier’s breakdown scene)… However, nothing is conclusive, and that’s part of what drives Depardieu crazy about it all, too.

    The ending is… ridiculous. I was disappointed by that, and not sure what to make of it — though the “reveal” (of Ogier behind a gate) just beforehand provided an interesting visual cue.

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