The Last Mistress review

:. Director: Catherine Breillat
:. Starring: Asia Argento, Fu'ad Ait Aattou
:. Running Time: 1:44
:. Year: 2007
:. Country: France


In a filmography which mostly focuses on a full-frontal approach to the sexuality of modern women — from teenage years to mid-life — this rather classic adaptation of a novel set in 19th century France might at first somewhat shock Catherine Breillat's followers with its actual lack of provocative material.

Asia Argento (Scarlet Diva, Transylavania) plays La Vellini, a newcomer to Parisian society whom the well-known Casanova Ryno di Marigny (Fu'ad Ait Aattou) has planned to seduce. From their cat and mouse game comes a destructive and torrid affair which lasts several years and brings both of them to the brink of self-destruction.

For her first foray into a period piece, Ms. Breillat (Anatomy of Hell, Fat Girl) ventures where nobody was expecting her to go, taking over a quite ambitious production filled with highly literate dialogues and beautiful costumes, sharply contrasting with what she has accustomed us to — namely low-budget dramas laden with bare characters.

If you look closely, however, you might notice that she hasn't abandoned her favorite and recurrent themes in the process; she's just transposed them into a different era. Whether it's her propensity to expose rough emotions, her need to explore the intimacy of souls and bodies, her taste for suffocating atmospheres or her predilection for strong-minded women — and boy-toys —, everything is here, turning this adaptation of a novel into a well-crafted character study rather than some melodramatic eye candy.

The main difference between The Last Mistress and her previous works lies mostly in her depiction of sexuality, which rather than being abruptly naturalistic is quite subdued here, despite the fact that her heroine is embodied by probably the most fearless actress in modern cinema. This stylistic change is not the result of a softening from the director. While the exploration of sexuality is usually the center of her films, Ms. Breillat is interested in the relationship between souls, this time around using sexuality in the background as a metaphor for their relationship - hence the sexual poses that look like locks as a symbol for this inextricable bound that irremediably brings them together.

With Ms. Argento playing the mistress, you already know that things will probably go over the edge and using the temptress-actress is a way to announce right from the beginning that fate is unavoidable, despite all good will from the characters. The Italian actress shines here, whether she pays the hunter or the victim, and newcomer Fu'ad Ait Aattou certainly matches her wit and charm. Ms. Breillat traps her two characters as the unwilling victims of a destructive passion in which both actors bravely dive in. Despite the luxurious setting of the production, they take center stage, as if we were watching a play, putting human emotions in the forefront and giving Ms. Breillat the opportunity to make a triumphant entry into a new genre.

  Fred Thom

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