Japanese title: Romance X
Rating: * * * * Director: Catherine Breillat Running time: 99 minutes Language: FrenchNow showing
Caroline Ducey in "Romance"

As anyone who's seen the provocative poster for "Romance" (a woman's hand placed between her thighs, with an electric "X" branded over the point of contact) already knows, this French film is undoubtedly the scandal du jour. And yet, despite the casually explicit sex on display (and an in-your-face childbirth shot), director Catherine Breillat's film is anything but mere controversy: It's a film that weds the provocative and the poetic, the outrageous and the mundane, in a precise exploration of female sexuality.

The film follows a young schoolteacher named Marie (Caroline Ducey), who's frustrated when her male-model lover Paul (Sagamore Stevenin) refuses to respond to her in bed. Seeking something between revenge and relief, she embarks on a series of flings: with a pickup named Paolo (played by Italian porn star Rocco Siffredi); her school's principal, Robert (Francois Berleand), a bondage fanatic; and a random encounter on the street that gets out of hand. When she becomes pregnant, Paul finally responds to Marie, but it's too little, too late . . .

Knowing that the film's reputation would precede its Japan release, director Breillat and her star, Ducey, came to Tokyo to answer the difficult questions. Meeting the pair, it's easy to see why they worked together: Both are outspoken, intense and passionate about their art. Ducey the actress gave herself over to Breillat the director, taking great risks with both her performance and image as an actress, with much the same sort of surrender as Marie offers to the men in the film.