by Rich Moreland, September 2016
At Jac Avila’s recommendation, I watched Amy Hesketh’s Barbazul, a Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema production. The film is a thought-provoking drama that dances between erotic horror and a psychological thriller.
In this first installment of a four part review, we take a look at the original story.
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The fairy tale as we know it today is a product of the Golden Age of Hollywood, cleaned up by the Disney people so as not to offend. But what about the original tales? They come from all cultures though the ones we’re most familiar with have European roots that reach across the continent.
The most popular stories come from the Brothers Grimm, who lived in Germany in the 1800s. But there are early well-known versions from France via Charles Perrault, a 17th century lawyer who turned his hand to writing. He specialized in morality tales and penned stories such as Mother Goose, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and the subject of this review, Bluebeard.
What we forget is this. Perrault’s narratives are grisly in nature. Little Red Riding Hood is stalked by a sexual predator when she ventures alone into the woods. Don’t we warn our children about strangers?
In Sleeping Beauty, the prince revives his beloved, they marry and have two children. The mother-in-law (Queen Mother) is not pleased and demands the children and their mother be cooked and served well done.
When that culinary plan falls through, she prepares to toss them into a vat of “vipers, snakes, and serpents,” Perrault writes. Her vengence will be satisfied and the little slithering rascals will enjoy a pleasant, but perhaps overly crowded, feast of their own.
Keeping all of this in mind, let’s take a further look at Bluebeard, a tale of dripping blood and curiosity that went too far.
The Dropped Key
Bluebeard, as the story goes, is a man “so ugly and frightening that women and girls fled at the sight of him.” Nevertheless, this man of means marries the youngest daughter of a “high-class lady” using his wealth to woo her with “picnics and parties.” The outcome is a May-December marriage.
Later Bluebeard takes a trip and leaves his wife the keys to the house with instructions to stay away from a certain room “at the end of the gallery.” Bluebeard’s warning reflects 17th century thinking. Women were expected to act within established boundaries and ask no questions.
“Open everything, go everywhere, but I forbid you to enter that little room,” he says, promising she will a pay price if she disobeys.
Not surprisingly, curiosity gets the best of the young woman and she searches out the room despite knowing punishment awaits her. “The temptation was too strong for her to resist,” Perrault writes.
Unlocking the door, she discovers the floor “sticky with clotted blood.” Reflected in this glistening pool were “the corpses of several women, hanging up along the wall.” They were Bluebeard’s previous wives “whose throats he had cut, one after another,” Perrault tells the reader.
Terrified, the bride drops the key which is quickly doused in the red stuff. She tries to clean it repeatedly, but it becomes “enchanted” and the stain never goes away.
When Bluebeard returns, the girl is quickly outed by the bloody key. Pressed for an explanation, her denials are unconvincing, sealing her fate.
“You will take your place beside the ladies you saw there,” he shouts, but does concede her a little time before his cutlass will do its work.
All seems lost though the lass does have a chance. She entreats her sister to keep watch for their brothers who are due to arrive at any moment. Desperation sets in as the final hour creeps closer and closer. But good fortune intervenes. The brothers break in just as Bluebeard is “ready to cut off her head.”
The day is saved and the young wife, despite her disobedience, becomes “mistress of all his belongings” because Bluebeard had no heirs.
A Paltry Pleasure
Perrault leaves the reader with the moral of the tale. “Curiosity has its lure,” he says, but it is a “paltry kind of pleasure and a risky game.” Simply put, this episode is the fault of the young bride who doesn’t understand her place in the household.
But, it is a fairy tale, uncomplicated and straight forward. Explanations for cruel behavior are unneeded in a patriarchal society. In the 1600s women were to do as they were told.
In her film, Barbazul, writer and director Amy Hesketh explores what is unsaid in Perrault’s narrative. She builds a back story around each of the wives and offers the viewer a surprising and chilly ending that leaves more questions than it answers.
In doing so, she explores the mind of a killer in ways unimagined in the Frenchman’s time.
Artfully done, Barbazul gives the initial impression of following Charles Perrault. The young wife, Soledad, like Perrault’s creation, is the subject of the film, or so it seems. But that is not Amy Hesketh’s intention.
You see, Barbazul is about Bluebeard and his attempts to exorcise his demons. The film is a strange, dark, psychological journey of man who has a personality disorder at best and is a serial killer at worse.
One more point.
Bluebeard is a misogynist in Perrault story, we suppose, but there is no convincing explanation. Does Amy’s film verify that label for her Barbazul and does that define his murderous inclinations?
In the next three posts, we’ll take a look.