May 22, 2017

Maîtresse




Although some might assume otherwise due to some of my writings, I consider myself a dark romantic of sorts and I am somewhat of a sucker for films about ‘mad love,’ especially of the tragic star-crossed lovers orientated sort. Of course, that also means that I absolutely despise popular Hollywood romantic-comedies like When Harry Met Sally... (1989) and There's Something About Mary (1998) where some physically weak (and oftentimes Jewish) beta-boy grovels and cons his way into the pretty pink panties of a dumb blonde shiksa that cannot seem to find a real red-blooded mensch that sufficiently sops her undies. Hell, I even consider the unrequited love story depicted in the Hollywood Golden Age classic Gone with the Wind (1939) to be far more preferable to enduring the unequivocally soul-draining cinematic torture test of watching some smart-ass semite like Woody Allen or Seth Rogen bullshit their way into defiling some dumb Aryan dame that cannot see past the phony ‘nice guy’ routine. Needless to say, there are only a handful of romance films that I truly appreciate and one of them I actually watched rather recently. Indeed, while I have mixed feelings about the film’s director's oeuvre in general, Maîtresse (1975) directed by Swiss auteur Barbet Schroeder (Barfly, Single White Female) is certainly a rebellious dark romance that I can completely get behind, even though I was not exactly enticed by most of the film’s sometimes explicit BDSM and bondage related sexual content (though there is a nice scene where a babe with a delectable derriere is bent over and beat on the bare ass and pussy lips with a leather belt).  A strangely yet mirthfully bittersweet love story featuring an endearingly unconventional romance between an uneducated and somewhat boorish yet genuinely kindhearted prole thief and a super chic and sophisticated yet emotionally impenetrable professional dominatrix with an upper-class clientele that is mostly comprised of masochistic aristocrats and businessmen, the film depicts the complicated relationship problems that arise when an ice queen of a whore falls prey to love and has her entire S&M operation put into jeopardy because she actually experiences the warmth of love and thus becomes less impassioned when it comes to exercising her savagely sadistic trade. 



 Arguably more talented as a documentarian than a feature filmmaker as demonstrated by his previous documentary work General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait (1974), Schroeder was somewhat strangely suited to direct Maîtresse—the director's first truly successful feature after directing a couple relatively obscure counterculture flicks, including More (1969) and La Vallée (1972) aka Obscured By Clouds—in the sense that the film has a certain unmistakable authenticity as the filmmaker wisely decided to hire real masochists, who apparently happily paid for the (dis)pleasure, to engage in real S&M torture scenes that would be immortalized in celluloid form. Additionally, Schroeder befriended a real-life dominatrix, who gave him important intimate details regarding both her carnal trade and personal sex life. While I have never been particularly a fan of S&M or having women beat the shit out of me during sex, the fiercely foul fetishistic acts depicted in the film surprisingly act as a nice contrast to the unconventionally tender moments of real romantic love between the two protagonists. Whether intentional or not, the film also features a somewhat subtle, yet nonetheless scathing, critique of the bourgeoisie and its dubious vices. In short, the film makes it seem as if every single upper-class gentleman is a nihilistically uptight sexually degenerate that is so hopelessly masochistic that they enjoy things like role-playing as their own servants and having nails driven into their cocks. On the other hand, not unlike the poof prole played by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in his film Faustrecht der Freiheit (1975) aka Fox and His Friends, the working-class crook portrayed by Gérard Depardieu in Schroeder’s film is an extremely sexually virile and fairly sexually sane individual that is naturally completely baffled by S&M degeneracy. 

Featuring costume design by fashion alpha-queen Karl Lagerfeld, cinematography by gay Spanish master cinematographer and AIDS victim Néstor Almendros (The Wild Child, Days of Heaven), and various masochistic men in bizarre drag, Maîtresse is certainly, at least on a superficial level, a quasi-queer flick with certain cultivated camp elements, which is somewhat paradoxical considering its potent heterosexual love story.  As demonstrated by French fag flicks that were also made during the 1970s like Philippe Vallois' Johan - Mon été 75 (1976) and Lionel Soukaz's Race d'Ep: un siècle d'images de l'homosexualité (1979) aka The Homosexual Century, S&M and bondage was also all the rage among chic cocksuckers during that time.  Thankfully, Schroeder’s film somewhat unintentionally makes extremely realistic S&M and bondage seem like a sad sick joke when compared to the majesty of organic heterosexual love. Featuring an emotionally glacial heroine that is petrified by love and commitment who soon discovers that her distinguished talent for beating the shit out of men wanes when she falls in love with a man that knows how to sexuality dominate her and make her feel like a real woman as opposed to simply a cruel and callous ice queen, Maîtresse could even be described as anti-S&M, though I seriously doubt this was Schroeder’s intention.  In fact, as Schroeder proudly explains in an interview featured on the Criterion Collection DVD release of the film, many real-life dominatrixes complimented on the authenticity of his feature.  Of course, Schroeder should be admired for attempting the impossible task of giving respect and dignity to the completely degenerate and undignified.



 Undoubtedly, it is only natural that Maîtresse—arguably the first film to take a serious and realistic view of dominatrixes and S&M subcultures and the sort of people and psychologies that are attracted to such self-debasement—was made in the same nation that produced the debauched aristocratic philosopher, the Marquis de Sade, who is indubitably a timeless source for all-things-proudly-impure as the wickedly wanton wordsmith that literally inspired the term ‘sadism.’  Undoubtedly, in a strange way, de Sade’s famous quote, “In order to know virtue, we must first acquaint ourselves with vice,” is a major theme of the film in the sense that debauchery and criminality strangely leads to the protagonists' quite virtuous true love romance. Indeed, it is only when the heroine—played by La Nouvelle Vague diva Bulle Ogier in a masterful performance that was arguably foreshadowed in Jacques Baratier's surrealist S&M gothic Piège (1968)—actually experiences true love that her talent for sadism declines and she finds herself unable to perform her role as a vamp-like dominatrix that thrives on the sexual suffering of rich and powerful men.  While a somewhat unhinged bitch that seems to prefer giving pain over receiving pleasure, the heroine has no problem eventually making the distinction between love and sadomasochism when she actually encounters a man that is worthy enough to make her wet. Of course, the heroine’s dominatrix persona is not much more than a protective shield for her deep-seated emotion immaturity and fear of emotional attachment and, in turn, feminine submission.

Although other films had previously been made in France about sadomasochism, including Pierre-Alain Jolivet's rarely-seen Fernando Arrabal adaptation Le Grand Ceremonial (1968) aka Weird Weirdo, film critic Jean-Pierre Bouyxou's experimental underground short Satan bouche un coin (1968), and homo artsploitation auteur Jacques Scandelari’s debauched de Sade adaptation La philosophie dans le boudoir (1971) aka Beyond Love and Evil, these films are superlatively sensational works that merely use S&M to shock and titillate. Undoubtedly, one of the most shocking aspects of Maîtresse is its innate lack of sensationalism and almost detached objectivity in terms of depicting the strictly professional relationship between a dick-nailing and ass-whipping Madame and her mostly morbidly masochistic customers. Not surprisingly, despite Schroeder going out of his way to depict them in as an objective and ‘respectful’ manner as possible, the masochists still come off seeming like pathetic sexual cripples that would have surely been thrown in a bog by their ancient ancestors, but I digress. 




 Despite being a quite menacing dominatrix that really knows how to thoroughly brutalize her high paying johns, emotionally glacial (anti)heroine Ariane (Ogier) seems completely incapable of managing anything resembling a normal life and prefers to keep her loved ones at a safe distance. Indeed, as Maîtresse unravels, the viewer discovers that, although she has a swarthy live-in maid and beastly Doberman named ‘Texas,’ Ariane curiously does not live with her own young son and seems scantly involved with his life, at least in a real-life context, despite claiming in regard to the little lad that, “He’s the [only] man in my life.”  In short, while Ariane has no problem beating the shit out of queens, queers, and anally retentive bluebloods, she is terribly afraid of emotional commitment and truly sharing her life with another human-being. As a boorish yet sweet, strong yet sensitive, and low-class yet naturally charismatic prole crook, muscular male protagonist Olivier (Depardieu) is Ariane’s complete opposite and both ultimately prove that opposites truly attract just like sadism and masochism.

 At the beginning of the film, Olivier and his swarthy conman comrade Mario (André Rouyer) visit various apartments under the false pretense of selling art books as a means to covertly raid various flats and steal valuable objects.  As a very hospitable hood-with-a-heart-of-gold, Olivier almost immediately expresses dismay with Mario's criminal plan, but he is also not the sort of guy that likes to let down a friend and thus goes along with the rather stupid scheme. Upon knocking on one door, they are greeted by a semi-hysterical Ariane, who begs them to help her with her plumbing lest her apartment become completely flooded with water. Upon talking to Ariane, Olivier and Mario are delighted to discover that “the old woman downstairs is on vacation” and thus seize the opportunity to rob the supposedly empty apartment. Rather unfortunately (or rather fortunately for Olivier as things turn out), Ariane was lying, as the apartment is actually a sort of secret makeshift S&M dungeon, so naturally Olivier and Mario are somewhat bewildered when they discover bondage gear, torture devices, gimp masks, and even an imprisoned male slave in the lavishly decorated Art Deco (anti)pleasure-dome. Of course, things get even more bizarre when a secret door opens in the ceiling and Ariane, who is sporting a savagely dapper dominatrix outfit, proceeds to walk down a set of stairs that emerges from said door. Needless to say, the two crooks find themselves imprisoned when Ariane’s loyal Doberman appears out of nowhere and begins growling at them, but Olivier soon discovers that he has finally become trapped in a prison that he won’t mind living in.  A woman that lives two very different lives in two very different yet symbolically secretly conjoined apartments that represent a sort of bourgeois heaven and hell, Ariane is a bewildering bitch that completely baffles poor philistine Olivier, yet he is a man that knows what he likes and he instantly takes a special liking to the eloquently eccentric dominatrix dame.




 When Ariane first notices the two burglars and realizes that they are the two chaps that helped her fix the plumbing in her apartment, she remarks in a less impassioned fashion, “Oh. You again!,” asks them, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?,” handcuffs them to a furnace, and then declares, “I’ll be with you in a moment.” Indeed, Ariane is so deeply devoted to her sex work that she opts to torture one of her victims before dealing with the crooks. Somewhat unpredictably, Ariane interrupts her torture session temporarily to approach Olivier and nonchalantly say to him, “I need you. Two hundred francs for three minutes’ work.” Needless to say, Olivier immediately accepts the unexpected offer, though he is somewhat taken aback when Ariane digs in his pants, grabs his cock, and demands that he piss on her groveling leather-clad man-slave. Notably, in the middle of the urine-drenched torture session in what is undoubtedly one of the most inordinately romantic scenes in cinema history, Ariane and Olivier reveal their singular romantic chemistry by passionately making out with one another without even the slightest bit hesitation, as if they are long lost lovers that have been reunited after a decade of grueling separation.  Indeed, although he is in the middle of pissing on a strange man's face, Olivier's mutual sexual attraction to Ariane is so strong that he cannot help but expressing his overwhelming carnal passion for her with a rather long kiss that more or less symbolically unites them as lovers.

For Olivier and Ariane, it is virtually love-at-first-sight. After paying off Mario to leave him alone with money that he was going to use pay for a date, Olivier immediately takes Ariane out on a dinner date at a fancy restaurant where they incessantly shamelessly flirt while drinking tons of wine. During the date, the two reveal some of their more glaring flaws to one another, with Oliver confessing, “I don’t really have a past” and Ariane somewhat disturbingly admitting, “You shouldn’t ask me questions because either I lie or I don’t answer them” and “I’m not the cautious type.” As two individuals with uniquely unsavory pasts, it is no surprise that the two new eccentric lovebirds are easily able to overlook each others’ flaws, at least at first. Indeed, Ariane does not even mind having to pay for the dinner date that Olivier asked her to go out on. In fact, she is completely flattered when she discovers that Olivier used the dinner date money to payoff Mario so that they could be alone with one another. Needless to say, the two fuck that night and Olivier even goes so far as to get Ariane all hot in bothered by violently grabbing her and threatening, “I could kill you now if I wanted. Just like that. One squeeze and you’re dead.” Unfortunately for their relationship, Olivier eventually begins to adopt a more passive and masochistic role as the romance develops while Ariane begins to lose her dominatrix talents, thus eventually leading to serious conflict. 




 During the l'heure bleue after their first dinner date together in a scene that almost has a dream-like feel to it, Olivier reveals his ordinate sensitivity and sense of compassion and empathy by confiding to Ariane that he used to work in a slaughterhouse but found the job “awful,” so he quit or as he remarks, “After a few days, I started to get used to it, so I quit.”  Indeed, quite unlike Ariane who basks in brutality, Olivier cannot stand harming living things and will do anything to avoid it.  As deathly cold dominatrix that thrives off of hurting and humiliating others, Ariane clearly has no use for compassion and is clearly afraid of having positive feelings of any sort, especially when it comes to other human beings. A hyper hermetic whore with an ominously flat effect that hides behind a sadistic persona and hardly ever expresses any emotions unless they are negative, Ariane also seems terribly afraid of people getting to know her true self and even carefully guards virtually every faucet of her personal life from Olivier despite the fact he lives with her. While it is obvious that Olivier absolutely loves and adores Ariane, she treats him like a sort of glorified fuck-toy and seems ashamed of his working-class wardrobe, hence why she goes out of her way to buy him a fancy suit that he has nil interest in wearing. In fact, Ariane is such a control freak that she physically attempts to stop Olivier when he drives her car during a trip to the country.  Indeed, Ariane has such little trust for men, including the one that she loves, that she cannot even bear to let Olivier take the wheel of her automobile.  While she never clearly vocalizes it, Ariane's behavior and actions demonstrate that she is a misandrist as a woman that lives to emasculate men and refuses to submit to any man. Notably, Ariane's strange combination of cold sophistication and anti-male sadism is subtly symbolically depicted by a famous photo of White Russian intellectual whore Lou Andreas-Salomé whipping Teutonic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his suicidal Jewish friend Paul Rée that the heroine has tapped to the headboard of her bed. While Olivier initially tolerates Ariane’s odious occupation and even takes part in some of the beatings (including whipping the big bare ass and teasing the clit of some random chick with his belt), he has a very hard time understanding the appeal of such debauchery and eventually becomes jealous, not least of all because the heroine seems more interest in working than fucking. 




 As time passes, Olivier comes to discover that Ariane has some dubious business arrangement with a somewhat Godot-esque mystery man simply known as ‘Gautier’ (Holger Löwenadler of Ingmar Bergman's A Ship to India (1947) and Louie Malle's Lacombe, Lucien (1974)). Naturally, Olivier assumes Gautier is Ariane’s pimp, especially after he discovers that she has been giving the old man large amounts of cash.  Needless to say, Olivier is not happy when Ariane asks him to open a banking account in his name to store some of the whoring money, but he does it anyway because he loves his beloved and hates to cause senseless drama. Not surprisingly, Olivier becomes especially concerned when Ariane calls Gautier after making a half-hearted attempt at suicide via defenestration. Unbeknownst to Olivier, Ariane’s erratic self-destructive behavior is a result of the fact that she is losing her talent for sadism due to her love for him. As someone that gets off to feeding her pet Venus flytraps meat and saying cutesy things to the pet plants like, “My darlings are hungry,” Ariane is not exactly the sort of women that knows how completely process and live with true love. Indeed, instead of simply buying her flowers and chocolates, Olivier must demonstrate his love to Ariane by engaging in sort of hardcore roleplaying scenarios, including (pseudo)raping her from behind at knife point in a dark alley. As demonstrated by her remark, “It’s fascinating to get into people’s madness,” Ariane lives for the lurid and lecherous, especially when she ‘directs’ such scenarios while working as a dominatrix. When Olivier gets made at her for attempting to go back to one of her johns only minutes after suffering a mental breakdown and complains to her, “Enough playing the whore and then breaking down!,” Ariane has no problem bragging that she is a prostitute and even replying with a certain self-assured arrogance, “I’m not playing the whore. I am a whore, and I like it. I chose this life.” After the two get in a short slapping match, Ariane confesses that her johns really mean nothing to her, stating in a somewhat somber fashion, “It’s not them. It’s you. I love you, and it scares me.” Probably partly due to the fact that she thinks Olivier is a stupid male bimbo and witless philistine, Ariane thinks she can continue her trade and dubious relationship with Gautier while in a relationship with the protagonist, but it is only a matter of time before everything falls apart, including her carefully cultivated persona. 




 When Ariane brags one day regarding Gautier that, “He’s a great horse who wins every race. Thanks to him, we’re gonna go on vacation,” Olivier finally comes to the point where he can no longer tolerant his lover’s secrecy and dubious relationship with a strange fellow that he assumes a pimp. Indeed, after doing some serious snooping and eventually discovering Gautier’s address, Olivier pays the mysterious “great horse” an unexpected visit to give him an ultimatum in regard to his relationship with Ariane. Convinced that Gautier is an abusive and exploitative manipulator that has caused Ariane to live a slave-like existence of perpetual fear and debasement, Olivier busts into the old man’s business office unannounced, reveals who he is, and firmly states, “This has to stop. I love Ariane. I don’t want her to be scared anymore.” After Gautier more or less mocks the idea that Ariane is afraid of him, Olivier tells him that he will be the heroine’s new and improved pimp, stating, “I have a suggestion. From now on, I take care ofher. Same way you do. But I’ll take a smaller cut. And I’ll really protect her.” At this point, Gautier seems somewhat offended and retorts, “Are you sure we both take care of women in the same manner?,” but Olivier stands firm and replies, “That’s beside the point.” Despite clearly annoying Gautier, Olivier demands 10,000 francs from the old man that he believes was stolen from Ariane. Although he protests by rhetorically asking “Do you realize who I am?” and then snidely remarking, “I find you a bit rash,” Gautier still gives Olivier the money.

Seeming to have subconsciously realized that he has made a serious mistake that will most likely jeopardize his relationship, Olivier immediately gets violently drunk and roams around public until the morning as if he is afraid of going back to Ariane. In a symbolic scene where he reveals his identification with slaughtered horses and, in turn, sense of victim-hood, Olivier pays an early morning visit to an abattoir and then subsequently buys three horse steaks that he eats in an almost ritualistic fashion as if he is attempting to consume the brutalization and victimization of the dead animals. Indeed, despite his prole style alpha-male talents when it comes to kicking ass and taking names, Olivier now feels like a slave and acts accordingly in a strangely masochistic fashion as a virtual ‘kept man’ that is dependent on a dame that seems to value her degenerate job more than him. Clearly empathizing with the brutally slaughtered horses, Olivier seems to feel like a helpless victim and a hapless cog in a metaphysical machine of assembly-line murder. In what ultimately becomes a pathetic self-fulfilling prophecy, Olivier almost seems to have paid Gautier a rather rude visit in a subconscious attempt to completely sabotage his relationship, or so the viewer inevitably assumes. 




 When Ariane gets an early morning call from Gautier that concludes with her begging for mercy to the old fart on the other line, it becomes obvious that Olivier made a serious mistake when he paid a visit to the old aristocratic pimp. Indeed, after getting off the phone, Ariane gives Olivier a literal rude awakening by throwing clothes at him while he is asleep and bitchily yelling, “You’re leaving. I don’t want to see you anymore. Pack your things, get dressed, and get out. Understand?” Of course, Ariane does not stop there, as she begins shaking Olivier and screaming in his face like a bipolar bitch on the rag, “You idiot! How could you have done that, imbecile? You had to find out for yourself! Wasn’t our relationship more important? More important than satisfying your curiosity? What, are you a cop?” Naturally, like any normal angry woman, Ariane cravenly attempts to wound Olivier’s pride by bragging about how great Gautier is and stating, “He loves me enough to let me live the way I want.” Not content with merely emotionally abusing her lover, Ariane also insanely headbutts Olivier, though she is ultimately the one that is left most injured with a badly bloodied face.  Always the consummate gentleman, Olivier absurdly shows concern for Ariane as a result of the injury she sustains after she headbutts him.  Of course, physical injuries are of little concern to both characters as they are both badly internally wounded.

When Olivier finally manages to flee the apartment after being bombarded with a quite venomous verbal assault that might have completely spiritually castrated a weaker man, Ariane also begins to cry, thus leaving her with a somewhat aesthetically displeasing combination of blood, sweat, and tears on her face. As the viewer assumes, Ariane’s nasty behavior was at least partially an act that was meant to scare Olivier away as it is apparent that Gautier demanded that the male protagonist be kicked out of the apartment. Despite being treated as an emotional punching bag, Olivier is not the kind of guy that is going to accept to defeat when loved is involved, so he immediately goes to his local bank, completely empties his bank account, and then puts the cash inside an envelope that reads, “I love you.”  Unfortunately, when Olivier gets back to Ariane’s apartment, he discovers that his beloved is gone and that a couple of hired goons are moving her personal belongs out of the place. As he quite nicely explains to them himself, Olivier does not want to beat the shit out of the goons, but they refuse to tell him where Ariane located is so he beats the shit out of both of them, including an erratic knife-wielding pansy. 



 After learning that Ariane is located at a remote wooded chateau in the middle of the country, Oliver puts on a fancy suit that his beloved once bought for him but he did not like and takes a long journey deep into the frog hinterland with his moped. Upon arriving at the chateau, Olivier discovers Ariane, Gautier, and their assumed mutual son standing in the yard, thus he quickly decides to drop the “I love you” envelope full of money into the mailbox and leave immediately.  Considering that Ariane is absurdly dressed like a proper bourgeois housewife and now seems to even have a traditional nuclear family, Olivier naturally assumes their relationship is over, but thankfully he underestimates the unpredictability of his ladlylove.  Luckily, Ariane sees Olivier and decides to follow him in her fancy convertible. Without even thinking twice, Olivier pulls over upon seeing Ariane and then gets inside her car so they can commence an extra special session of car coitus. Indeed, in a rather symbolic scene that reveals that they have finally found a healthy medium in regard to their relationship, the two simultaneously drive while fucking, with Ariane sitting on Olivier’s cock and controlling the steering wheel while her lover manages the gas pedal. Not surprisingly, not only are the two dangerous lovers in complete ecstasy, but they also manage to get in a car wreck while they are on the brink of orgasm in a scenario that predates David Cronenberg’s classic symphorophiliac J.G Ballard adaptation Crash (1996). Thankfully, the two leave the accident fairly unscathed and even laugh upon exiting the wreckage in a final scene that really underscores the majesty of their mad love.  Indeed, while Ariane may be a literal whore, it seems that she has finally chosen poor prole Olivier over aristocratic sugar daddy Gautier.


 A relatively unclassifiable arthouse flick that features what undoubtedly has to be one of the most strangely endearingly idiosyncratic yet surprisingly believable love affairs in cinema history, Maîtresse is, in many ways, the film that Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972) attempted to be in terms of depicting both the pleasures and perils of a sadomasochistic romance between two opposites in frogland. Undoubtedly the most brilliant thing about the film is that, unlike Bertolucci’s somewhat overrated flick, the love story completely eclipses the scenes of ‘authentic’ S&M torture in terms of sheer potency and memorability, thus underscoring auteur Barbet Schroeder’s somewhat overlooked knack for nuance as a filmmaker (somewhat not surprisingly, the auteur would eventually marry his longtime leading lady Bulle Ogier). Of course, one also cannot forget to mention that the film features one of the most striking, singular, and unforgettable heroines of cinema history as a woman that manages to be neither a completely morally pristine female protagonist or evil scheming femme fatale, but instead a sort of all-too-hopelessly-human emotional cripple that is as cold as ice yet also somehow manages to bleed a sort a perpetual internal woundedness that is barely disguised by her carefully constructed glacial persona. Despite his flagrant boorish and inability to understand the sort of mind that enjoys S&M torture sessions, the film’s male protagonist is still able to see his lover for who she really is without being repelled by her, hence the singular charm of their romance. By eventually being able to accept one another in the end despite their mutual glaring personal flaws, the playfully perverse protagonists reveal what true love is all about.  Instead of depicting an idiotically idealistic storybook version of love, Maîtresse reveals in a fairly unconventional fashion that love requires mutual sacrifice and commitment and that love can indeed conquer all if the right variables (and pheromones) come into play.  In a weak and pathetic age where couples are so quick to break up or divorce when even the mildest discomfort comes into play, Schroeder's S&M flick is a strangely moral film that is certainly more important now than when it was first released over four decades ago.


 I must confess that Maîtresse probably left a deeper and more personal yet bittersweet impression of me than the average viewer, namely because I felt like I already knew the heroine, or at least some dominant aspect of her, all too well. Indeed, I could certainly identify with protagonist Olivier when it came to his pain and anxiety in regard to the emotionally impenetrable, highly secretive, and hopelessly introverted nature of his beloved to the point where I was sincerely quite shocked by the film’s unconventional ‘happy ending.’ While it would be easy to simply write-off Ariane as a cold soulless bitch that probably diddles herself with sandpaper just so that she can feel some sort of emotion, I ultimately felt pity and the unwavering desire to protect and comfort her just like Olivier. After all, women like Ariane are not born but created via childhood emotional abuse in the form of poor male role models and/or worthless self-absorbed mothers. Indeed, as a dominatrix that refuses to live with her own adolescent son, Ariane is certainly a misandrist of sorts that fears being under the thumb of a man so it is only nature that she becomes instantly attracted to a genuinely sweet and kindhearted crook like Olivier. Undoubtedly, beneath Ariane’s icy cold exterior is a lost and scared little girl that completely lacks something emotionally that most other people take for granted. As for Olivier, he was forced against his will to become a street fighter and thief due to his lowly background despite his distaste for violence and brutality, among other things.  Of course, it ultimately takes someone with the right amount of toughness and sensitivity like Olivier to be able to handle Ariane's ‘eccentric’ emotional handicaps.


 Unquestionably, in terms of her psyche, intellect, sexual impulses, and overall character, Ariane is a virtual textbook example of the ‘prostitute type’ that tragic Austrian-Jewish philosopher Otto Weininger was describing in his magnum opus Geschlecht und Charakter (1903) aka Sex and Character in regard to the two main archetypal extremes of the so-called fairer sex. In stark contrast to the nurturing qualities of the ‘mother type’ that Weininger spoke of, Ariane is a cold and cryptic criminally-inclined cunt that is so innately unsuited for motherhood that she cannot even stomach living with her own biological son despite her active interest in his school report cards. Of course, as Weininger wrote, “Great men have always preferred women of the prostitute type,” whereas the mother type is typically dumb, childlike, less sexually adventurous, and more or less only suitable for breeding and raising children, an archetypical whore like Ariane is the kind of clever and charming cunt that you can lie naked in bed with and discuss great cinema and philosophers for hours after a great session of coital bonding.  In short, despite featuring a great preternatural romance, Maîtresse must be praised for depicting the ultimate Weiningerian woman. It seems that auteur Barbet Schroeder's intrinsic talent for psychological insight, especially in an artistic context, is genetic as he is the maternal grandson of German psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn, who became famous for analyzing the degenerate art of mental patients (in fact, some of Prinzhorn's work was posthumously displayed at the infamous 1937 Nazi ‘Entartete Kunst’ propaganda exhibition).


 Notably, sagely frog degenerate Georges Bataille once wisely argued, “Not every woman is a potential prostitute, but prostitution is the logical consequence of the feminine attitude. In so far as she is attractive, a woman is a prey to men’s desire. Unless she refuses completely because she is determined to remain chaste, the question is at what price and under what circumstances will she yield. But if the conditions are fulfilled she always offers herself as an object. Prostitution proper only brings in a commercial element. By the care she lavishes on her toilet, by the concern she has for her beauty set off by her adornment, a woman regards herself as an object always trying to attract men’s attention. Similarly if she strips naked she reveals the object of a man’s desire, an individual and particular object to be prized.” Rather revealing, Maîtresse heroine Ariane—a literal prostitute that, somewhat paradoxically, does not exhibit the archetypal feminine pussy-peddler traits—need not advertise the carnal goods to immediately make Olivier her prey, thus revealing true sadistic love on her part when it comes to the male protagonist, as if she is devoid of normal instinctual feminine wiles and instead simply must take what she wants by literal force. As for her johns, Ariane dolls herself in less than revealing dominatrix garb and refuses to give her customers anything aside from pure and unadulterated pain and brutality of both the emotional and physical sort. Although she may be a self-professed liar that lives behind a phony persona, Ariane is ultimately more honest than most women when it comes to her hot and heavy romance with Monsieur Olivier. For those cinephiles that ever wanted to see a cold and sadistic bitch like the eponymous anti-heroine of Tony Richardson's somewhat loose Jean Genet adaptation Mademoiselle (1966) succumb to love, Schroeder's film is certainly your best bet.

Although I don't want to knock Lynch's classic film, but the romance in Maîtresse makes the sadomasochistic love affair between Jeffrey Beaumont and Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet (1986) seem like an absurdist male-fantasy by comparison.  Additionally, compared to Schroeder's film, which wallows in a sort of radical yet understated realism, Luis Buñuel's masterful S&M flick Belle de Jour (1967) almost seems like an emotionally fraudulent feminist fantasy.  Of course, what both Schroeder and Buñuel's films reveal is that virtually all women are plagued by indecision and are constantly torn between wanting a man that instantly can sop their panties and a sexually banal beta-provider-male that can inflate their bank accounts.  Either way, innate hypergamic instincts dictates that most women will always find something to complain about and the only place you will find real happy endings to romances is in movies, even in strange sadomasochistic arthouse ones like Maîtresse.



-Ty E

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