Anatomy of Hell

How Catherine Breillat Uses Her Own Painful Story to Discuss the Female Gaze in ‘Abuse of Weakness’

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The female gaze is more than simply “reversing” the male gaze; it allows for a questioning of why the male gaze is so inherently built into cinema and why women are aggressively sexualised within cinema. With ‘Abuse of Weakness,’ Breillat attacks both of these concerns whilst also actively encouraging identification with Maud – our female protagonist.

Catherine Breillat’s Transfigurative Female Gaze

A Real Young Girl (Une vraie jeune fille)

Breillat’s complete oeuvre (which certainly demands our attention beyond these three films) delivers continually shocking treatment of female sexuality presented though the female gaze. She wants us to be uncomfortable and to be constantly questioning both representations of female desire and our responses to those representations, and how all of it is shaped by a religious, patriarchal culture.

Catherine Breillat’s Transfigurative Female Gaze

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The grotesque is enmeshed with sexual pleasure and violent death–all images and storylines that patriarchal cultures have been weaving together for centuries. A woman’s sexual desire and her actions stemming from those desires are often presented as horrifying and punishable: “unwatchable.” Much of what Breillat shows supports the reality that female sexual desire is real, and the societies in which we must function are at best, uncomfortable with that desire, and at worst, violently hostile.