Update, March 30: The Murmur Podcast has since pulled the episode featuring Breillat.
Like several other luminaries of French cinema, Catherine Breillat has a complicated, even negative view of the #MeToo movement. The “Fat Girl,” “Abuse of Weakness,” and “Bluebeard” filmmaker recently appeared on the Murmur podcast to discuss everything from Harvey Weinstein (whose downfall is a “loss” for European cinema) and Asia Argento (“a mercenary and a traitor”) to #MeToo (which she’s “not for”) and Jessica Chastain (who never should have criticized “Last Tango in Paris”). It’s a compelling, increasingly out-there listen.
“Despite everything, I think that Europeans have lost a lot with the loss of Harvey Weinstein,” Breillat says of the disgraced former mogul. “You have to remember that there are French producers who we haven’t denounced — I won’t mention them; I won’t mention names, although I know three who are extremely respected — I don’t know why they weren’t denounced as well. They absolutely had their place.”
“Long before the #MeToo movement started, I was very upset when Jessica Chastain made statements against the film ‘Last Tango in Paris.’ If you listen to her, that film should never have been made. To listen to her, Maria Schneider was raped. But Jessica Chastain wasn’t there, and it’s not true — I was on set. The scene was fiction.”
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The scene in question involves Schneider, Marlon Brando, and a stick of butter used as lubricant for anal sex. Schneider — who never filmed another nude scene, struggled with depression and addiction in the years following “Last Tango in Paris,” and died of cancer in 2011 — said that “I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci.”
Breillat clearly disagrees. “What’s more, the scene was totally intellectual, the scene with the butter — they didn’t show anything. I think society would do better to protect children from porn movies than to protect them from ‘Last Tango in Paris.’ I was really upset by what Jessica Chastain said; I was indignant.”
Then there’s France’s equivalent of #MeToo. “I’m absolutely against #BalanceTonPorc [“denounce your pig”],” she says of the movement. “It’s too easy to accuse people via hashtags anonymously; we have a justice system. And France, too, has a history with ‘balance ton juif,’ ‘denounce your jew.’ We know the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc was invented out of vengeance. This isn’t to diminish women; there are real rapes and real violence. In French, the word violence contains viol: rape. That’s why the reception of my films was frequently so devastating.”
“Women mustn’t be afraid to speak out, but still, you can’t resort to #MeToo about verbal violence. Of course, if you’re 14, verbal violence can be the same as actual physical aggression, but when you’re 25 or 30 and you go to a man’s hotel room, you know the game,” she continues. “Women shouldn’t present themselves as bimbos or innocent young things regardless of their age. Rather, we have to educate young girls so that they’re better equipped to defend themselves and so they don’t feel soiled just because someone said something to them. That’s not sufficient. They have to know how to respond.”
All of which is to say, “I’m not for #BalanceTonPorc, or for #MeToo for that matter. #MeToo, we knew all about it. My films deal with that, and the same people who saw #MeToo are those who attack my films — and with a lot of violence.”
Breillat has a similarly complicated view of feminism: “I’m a feminist, but not in my films,” she says, explaining that she doesn’t want to be make her films overtly political. “Feminism can go too far, into a kind of respect that’s unnecessary, but of course rape is a crime, attempted rape is a crime. They must be harshly punished and condemned, and they aren’t always.”
Breillat eventually turns her attention to Asia Argento, who has accused Weinstein of sexual assault and who starred in Breillat’s film “The Last Mistress.” “To be very honest, I don’t believe Asia,” she says bluntly. “I know her, and she was very, very young…If there’s anyone I don’t believe, it’s Asia Argento. As a person, Asia Argento is quite servile. I never asked her to kiss my feet, but she’s that kind of person. I don’t believe Asia. If there’s anyone capable of defending herself, who’s not timid about sex, who does it a lot, and has lots and lots of desire for both men and women, it’s her. So I don’t believe Asia.”
Asked what Argento’s motivations for lying might be, Breillat is just as frank. “For Asia, it was obviously, let’s say, motivated by self-interest — it was a kind of semi-prostitution. Harvey Weinstein’s not the worst man there is; he’s not the most stupid, either. Asia may have been disappointed that she didn’t become a great Hollywood actress she might have been, but there were lots of other things: drugs, many other things. She feels bitter. Because bitterness, too, can lead people to denounce if you wanted to obtain something and you didn’t obtain it, if you feel humiliated. Quite honestly, I don’t like Asia. I think she’s a mercenary and a traitor.”
As for why she’s comfortable being so outspoken, the explanation is simple. “Since I’m an artist, I don’t have to be politically correct.”