Romance is a 1999 French drama film, written and directed by Catherine Breillat.
[Unless noted otherwise, all quotations are from the subtitles.]
Breillat is notorious for explicitly showing sexual acts in her films, as well as her unsentimental view of heterosexual relations. Sex between men and women is always a conflict in Breillat’s films, though who is winning isn’t always clear.
The protagonist is Marie (Caroline Ducey), a young woman who lives with her boyfriend Paul (Sagamore Stévenin), a model. In the first scene, Marie watches from a distance as Paul is posed as a matador in a photoshoot with another female model. The photographer instructs Paul and the model in performing proper masculinity and femininity.
They return to their apartment, where their clothes and the furnishings are all white and off-white. Instead of innocence, it suggests sterility and emptiness. Paul rejects Marie’s sexual advances again, in a reversal of the usual gender roles.
Paul’s passive-aggressive head game is that if he completely eliminates sexual desire in himself, he gains the upper hand in his relationship with Marie. Having her dance on the end of his string is more interesting to him than actually fucking her.