Maîtresse (1975)

Why is it that every movie about a dominatrix follows the same trite storyline where the hardened, leather-clad woman in charge softens the moment she finds a romantic partner who can lower her defenses?  From corny, vintage domme media like Body of Evidence & Exit to Eden to more modern, thoughtfully considered dramas like Dogs Don’t Wear Pants & Pvt Chat, every feature-length depiction of a dominatrix’s love life I’ve seen is framed through a macho “I can fix her” POV.  That tradition apparently dates at least as far back as 1975’s Maîtresse, in which a young, bumbling thief (Gérard Depardieu) falls in love with an experienced dominatrix (Bulle Ogier) despite being baffled by her profession, then schemes to break her “free” from the lifestyle.  It’s up there with Basic Instinct as one of the more nuanced, subversive movies about sexually dominant women that I can name, but it still plays directly into the dominatrix romance’s most tired cliché.

What’s funny about Maîtresse‘s narrative phoniness is that director Barbet Schroeder is obviously proud of its Authenticity in every other metric.  His in-your-face, documentarian approach to Authenticity can be a little tiresome, like in moments when a horse is slaughtered & drained for butcher meat on-camera, or when the titular mistress nails one of her client’s dicks to a wooden board in full surgical detail (a stunt thankfully performed by a real-life professional, not Ogier).  It’s an incredible asset to the film’s mise-en-scène, though, especially in the dominatrix’s play dungeon.  Schroeder hired a professional domme to ensure the legitimacy of the kink scenes’ props & practices.  The camera’s awed pans over the mistress’s tools of the trade or her clients being dressed in lingerie and ridden like horses (some, apparently, clients of the sex worker hired to oversee the shoot, getting off on the humiliation of being filmed) are electric in their documentation of vintage BDSM play.  I somehow doubt that real-life dominatrix was also consulted for the story beats of the central romance, though, which is a shame.

To be fair, Maîtresse does directly challenge the macho POV of its in-over-his-head protagonist.  Depardieu plays a real mouthbreather, a thug who’s visibly intimidated by the whips & leather gear he finds in the play dungeon he burgles before wooing the dominatrix who owns it.  For her part, Ogier’s mistress character clearly explains to her new thief boyfriend that she is no damsel in distress, saying “I couldn’t do it if I didn’t like it.”  He attempts to “rescue” her from her comfortable, voluntary sex work routine anyway, and every drastic knucklehead action he takes on her behalf only makes her life worse.  Although the story is framed through the thief’s POV, he is introduced to the audience picking his nose on his motorcycle, undercutting whatever brutish cool he could possibly convey with the same dipshit goofiness that makes the thieves in Mandibles so laughably ineffectual.  Maîtresse may participate in the same “I can fix her” trope as every other dominatrix romance I’ve ever seen (Hell, for all I know it may have been responsible for creating it), but at least the central relationship in this specific example is dramatically complex.

This is essentially the story of two mismatched tops struggling to dominate each other, both barreling towards ruin because they won’t do the obvious thing and break up.  I’m always a sucker for stories where characters are compelled to repeatedly do things that are obviously going to kill them just because it makes them super horny; this version is even somehow refreshingly sentimental in its romance . . . when it wants to be.  Karl Lagerfeld’s fetish-fashion designs for the dominatrix’s wardrobe also afford it some wonderfully vivid imagery.  Genital torture & horse deaths aside, Maîtresse is commendable.  It’s only when I stop thinking about it as an individual work and consider it instead in the larger continuum of how dominatrices’ inner lives are portrayed (or ignored) on-screen that I’m disappointed it didn’t transgress in even more pointed, narrative ways.

-Brandon Ledet

My Father the Hero (1994)

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Every now and then, The Dollar Tree will have a handful of DVDs for, you guessed it, only a buck! Recently, I was going through the infamous dollar DVD pile, and among 10 copies of Madonna’s flop Swept Away, there was a copy of My Father the Hero. After noticing that the film’s cast contained a couple of decent actors (Gérard Depardieu, Katherine Heigl, and Lauren Hutton), I decided to buy it. How bad could it be?

I could sense that the film was going to be pure garbage within the first five minutes, and because I absolutely love garbage movies, I was getting a little excited. The film starts off with Andre (Depardieu), a neglectful father, arriving to New York City to pick up his 14 year-old brat of a daughter, Nicole (Heigl), for a father-daughter trip to the Bahamas. At this point, the acting was horrific and Depardieu looked like Uncle Fester with his bowl cut wig from Addams Family Values. I was loving it!

Screenshot from 2015-12-07 10:37:29 (Modified)

Unfortunately, everything took a turn for the worse once Andre and Nicole arrive in the Bahamas. Nicole develops a crush on an island boy, and she tells him that she’s on a trip with her lover, Andre. Yes, she pretends that her father is her older lover. And it gets even worse! She then tells her crush that she has to pretend that Andre is her father so that they won’t get into any legal trouble. Why would anyone think that this would be a cute idea for a family comedy? I’m sure the writers thought that this “cute” lie would cause the duo to get into all sorts of funny, wacky situations, but instead, it made this film an excruciatingly painful experience.

There are too many awkward moments in this film for me to discuss in this article (it would literally be the entire film script), but here’s my top 3:

  1. 14-year-old Nicole wears a white thong bathing suit while lying out by the pool, and all of these creepy old guys are checking her out. Oh yeah, and her dad is at the pool as well.
  2. After Nicole makes it well known that Andre is her lover, she attempts to make her crush jealous by having a semi-sensual slow dance with her father. At this point in the film, I recall screaming “Please! Just make it stop!” really loudly.
  3. Nicole eventually comes clean and tells her father about her little white lie, but instead of putting an end to all of this nonsense, he agrees to pretend to be her lover for the rest of their vacation. I’m not one to preach about parenting skills, but I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t condone your child’s lies or pretend to be their lover.

I have one wish for this holiday season, and it’s to have all copies of My Father the Hero destroyed. Please, if you are able to spare a buck, look for a copy of this film at your local Dollar Tree and burn it.

-Britnee Lombas