This article undertakes a close reading of Catherine Breillat’s recent film Une vieille maîtresse (2007) to show why this, her first heritage film, is nevertheless strongly relevant to the gender politics of today. The author argues that Breillat’s cinematic deconstruction of differences between women is designed to undo the polarising effect of patriarchal representations of women as madonnas or whores — media images still prevalent even in these days of mixité and parité. Despite a tendency on the part of some reviewers to take the film’s gender images at face value, the author argues that Breillat’s interest lies not in the predictable (and socially conservative) contrast between fixed polarities, but in the uncertain outcome of a dynamic internal conflict, in the (progressive) possibility of indeterminate gender roles. Through a close examination of the film’s mirror imagery, deconstructive editing and transvestic costumes, the author demonstrates how Breillat both exaggerates and confuses feminine icons in order to highlight them as patriarchal stereotypes and to deconstruct their opposition. The article also draws on paratextual evidence, including the striking poster art used in the film’s advertising campaign as well as the revealing statements made at film festivals by Breillat and her lead actress.


English Language and Literature

Publisher statement

This is an electronic version of an article published in Journal for Cultural Research.



URL: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/engl_fac/82