Wednesday, July 2, 2008

When Bobby Met Ariane: Maitresse

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Lauren Wissot unpacks an anti-sex scene from Barbet Schroeder's 1976 controversial film.

When Bobby Met Ariane: “Maitresse”

How often do you get Barbet Schroeder, Gerard Depardieu and Nestor Almendros together to shoot a film about a burglar who ends up falling in love with the dominatrix whose dungeon he’s unwittingly tried to rob? In a scene at the very beginning of Schroeder’s exquisitely paced, beautifully executed “Maitresse” the tone is brilliantly set for the relationship – and thus the film itself – through Almendros’ meticulously composed images. His camera captures Depardieu’s fair Olivier and his dark-haired partner-in-crime (whose bad idea it was to burglarize the “downstairs apartment”) in a hornet’s nest of their own making, caught in the act by Bulle Ogier’s “Maitresse” Ariane, and subsequently handcuffed to her radiator and guarded by a vicious Doberman named Texas.

But wait––if this doesn’t sound like a setup straight from the twisted mind of David Lynch I don’t know what does. Indeed, what’s most striking about the erotically charged scene that follows is how closely the psychological power dynamics of Schroeder’s Maitresse parallel the infamous “Bobby Peru seduces Lula” scene from “Wild at Heart.” In both cases no actual sex takes place. Instead there’s a steamy sadist/predator (Bobby Peru, Ariane) sinking his/her teeth into a piece of lost prey (Lula, Olivier). Both Lula and Olivier are turned on against their will, psychologically “raped,” so stunned at losing control that they’re not even fully aware of the situation they’re in, let alone how to escape it. The difference lies in the relationship between the characters. Lula is rendered helpless until Bobby releases her when he’s “gotta get going.” She’s just a toy for Bobby to kill time with in the afternoon, whereas Ariane plays for keeps – a spider whose web encompasses. Ariane takes over her “victims” wholly, completely and unapologetically. And like Bobby knowing enough to drop in on Lula unannounced – ensuring her defenses will be down – Ariane takes advantage of the element of surprise (burglars dropping in unannounced – how convenient!), wielding it like a stun gun before the attack.

For this very element of surprise that has caused Oliver and his criminal buddy’s undoing is what Ariane will use to take ownership of Olivier heart and mind. The petty thieves weren’t expecting the apartment to contain whips and chains and they most certainly weren’t anticipating a petite blonde pixie to wield a pair of cuffs like a beat cop. Ariane knows this – and uses it against Olivier who she immediately fancies, desires to control. (She reads him like Bobby can read Lula, recognizes his type from a mile away.) Unceremoniously she escorts a shaggy-haired client into the next room, soon returning to deftly release Olivier – from the radiator, his partner and soon-to-be-former life. She needs to borrow him for three minutes – at two hundred francs, she adds, like a madam to one of her working girls. There is no negotiating with the mistress – this is simply what he’ll do. Though Olivier radiates rough trade, thuggish in his black jacket and tight rugged jeans he’s so astonished as to be swept away, every bit as mind-fucked as Lula, reduced to an obedient schoolboy by Ariane’s unyielding command.

As if to emphasize this point Schroeder’s camera cuts to the heel of the mistress’ thigh-high boot pumping in and out of her makeup-wearing slave’s mouth like a stiletto dildo, a shot that runs in unbearable silence for a squeamishly long time. Ariane then uses her riding crop and the leash of the slave’s collar to keep him in line as she orders him onto his knees, a trannie slut wearing his own corset and form-fitting leather skirt. The frame is wide enough to encompass Olivier standing still off to the side, watching and waiting as if he’s stumbled into an otherworldly dream, the mistress and slave at her throne reflected in a mirror, performing for both the novice voyeur and us as much as for their own pleasure

Like Bobby, who has trapped Lula before ever laying a finger on her, Ariane has put an invisible collar around Olivier who immediately sleepwalks over when called. He stands directly in front of her as she rides her slave like a horse, controlling the submissive below and the one towering above with equal ease, an S&M ménage a trois. (Unlike Bobby she’s a professional; she can handle more than one sub at a time.) Without hesitation Ariane unzips Olivier’s jeans, stares him straight in the eye as she tells him to piss on the slut’s face, daring him to disobey (her own “Say it, say fuck me” moment) then, just to keep him off balance, abruptly forces his lips to hers for a deep kiss. Once again the element of surprise heightens the senses, turning the extraordinary into the erotic, Olivier’s head and cock – and bodily fluids! – at her mercy.

Once Olivier, as shaken as Lula even if he doesn’t burst into tears, returns to his unaware partner, the client sticks a wad of bills in his jeans pocket on his way out the door, putting an exclamation point on the fact that he’s become the mistress’ bitch as well. (Even Bobby Peru didn’t sink that low!) When Ariane returns to flaunt more pay in his face Olivier unconvincingly hesitates before taking it. (She never doubts that he will – for he’s a hustler just like she.) Still on automatic pilot Olivier sheepishly grabs the bills, only to use them to pay off his friend so he can get rid of him, take Ariane to dinner in an effort to turn the power dynamic right side up, to regain control. Ariane acquiesces like a cat toying with a mouse.

Once at the restaurant she wonders if his partner will tell, to which Olivier replies that he didn’t know what was going on. “What about you?” she asks rhetorically, knowing he hasn’t got a clue. Naïvely, Olivier inquires if she’d been afraid to go to dinner with him to which she purrs, “I’m not the cautious type,” basking in the accomplishment of turning him both on and out like a whore, her own personal beau de jour.

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