The scene that opens Catherine Breillat’s Romance (1999) puts us immediately on theme: a man dressed like a toreador and a woman dressed like a flamenco dancer pose for a photographer, who instructs the woman to be more submissive — but not too submissive — to the man. She’s able to comply to spec because she knows the drill from life, and the balance she finds is the same balance the movie’s protagonist, Marie (Caroline Ducey), strives for in her relationships with men. Breillat’s symbolizing of her heroine’s struggle in the costume and pose of Europe’s most macho culture leaves no room for doubt: Romance anatomizes (literally as well as figuratively) the sexual roles into which men and women have been shoe-horned, giving particular scope to the impossible position of one directed to submit, but who will be scorned the moment she performs her role.

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