Plot: What’s it about?
Olivier (Gerard Depardieu) is a common thief, a man who breaks into homes and takes what others have worked to attain. He does so in order to make money, but also to feel more powerful and find some kind of adventure. He also works with an old friend, who sells books on art door to door, though business is rather slow. After a lot of failed sales, the two knock on the door of a beautiful woman named Ariane (Bulle Ogier). She is in a real problematic state, as her pipes have burst and she is at a loss to repair the damage. Olivier and his friend manage to fix her pipes, then she tells them the tenant downstairs might be interested in the books. But the tenant is on vacation, so she will have to write him about the potential sale. This sparks the interest of Olivier, who sees a chance to rob the vacant residence. The opportunity is too good to miss, so the friends break into the place, only to discover a dark, unusual residence. The place is dark and filled with bizarre items, such as torture devices and cages of all kinds. One of the cages even has a man inside, which sets the two men’s minds racing on what they’ve stumbled into. Just then, a woman in a strange rubber outfit descends into the residence, who reveals herself as Ariane. She and Olivier soon strike up a romance, but will her odd lifestyle doom their potential love?
This is not the usual erotic thriller, but then again, with director Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune, Single White Female) involved, that’s no surprise. Schroeder’s more recent films have been rather lackluster, but his career has some great movies, one of which is this film, Maitresse. This movie deals with sexual perversions, sometimes violent ones, so expect graphic, often intense sexual elements. But these elements are natural within the premise, so this is not shock for the sake of shock, not even close. And while the film was banned at one time and has been cut in most releases, the content is not that offensive. You will see some sexual situations and offbeat sexual practices, such as sadism and bondage, but we’ve seen worse, though I am sure at the time, this was quite a stunner to audiences. As expected, Criterion has delivered the uncut version of the film and that is excellent news. Maitresse aims for some lofty cinematic goals, with a lot of social commentary, but some of it falls short. The bond between the leads works well, as both explore their place in the relationship, but of Schroeder’s other attempts to add layers don’t pan out. Even so, this is a more romantic, atmospheric picture that might assume. I can’t recommend it to everyone, but for those interested, Maitresse is worth a look.
Video: How does it look?
Maitresse is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. As usual, Criterion has created a new restored transfer from the original elements, which means this movie has never looked so good on home video. The print has some minor debris, but this is by far the cleanest edition of this movie I have ever seen. The absence of grain and debris allows the visuals to shine through, so softness is not a concern. I did a few scenes that were a tad soft, but on the whole, the visuals come across as crisp and well detailed. The colors look good also, with bright and natural hues, while contrast provides stark and consistent black levels. So once again, Criterion has worked their magic and given us a wonderful visual treatment.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original French soundtrack is preserved here, via a passable, but tad worn mono option. I know some restoration work was done on the elements, but the audio is still on the soft and somewhat worn side. This is due to the film’s age and the evolution of audio, as overall depth and range is quite limited. But this is a mono soundtrack, after all, so we shouldn’t expect a rich, vivid audio experience. The film uses a relaxed audio approach anyway, which means we don’t need much from the soundtrack in the end. The dialogue sounds clean and never suffers, so the main element is in top form here. So all in all, we have a more than reasonable presentation, given the material involved. Just in case you haven’t remembered much from your high school French class, you can enable optional English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A fourteen minute interview with director Barbet Schroeder is the sole supplement, but it is a solid inclusion. Schroeder discusses how the project began, details some stories from the production, and talks about the cast involved. This was obviously a very personal project for Schroeder, so I would have liked a full length audio commentary track, but this is a well crafted interview that contains some great insights.