The Last Mistress (IFC Films, NR)

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film_last-mistress_sm.jpgWith Catherine Breillat, Asia Argento has again found a director to twine her lustiness into proper effect.

 

 

 

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In her continuing examination of female sexuality, Catherine Breillat takes her journey to the 19th century, bringing along a game Asia Argento, my favorite busy actress of the moment, in the titular role. In fact, The Last Mistress is also Breillat's first time working with material other than her own, and from the viewpoint of a male. The first half of the film focuses on young nobleman Ryno de Marigny (Fu'ad Ait Aattou; think a subtle, French Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) recounting his ten-year affair with the Spanish mistress Vellini (Argento) to the aging grandmother (Claude Sarraute) of his future wife Harmangarde (Roxane Mesquida, in her third film with Breillat). The marquise fancies Ryno to be a man of her own heart, hence her open-mindedness in confronting him about his well-known, and much gossiped-about, affair. However, after the marriage, the lovelorn Vellini returns to confront Ryno.

The film is hardly the Fatal Attraction in corsets as it sounds, for Breillat's focus is less sensational than that. After such controversial films as Fat Girl and Anatomy of Hell, The Last Mistress comes off rather tame and subdued for a director often mislabeled as a provocateuse. Breillat's interest lies directly on Vellini and Argento, who's fashioned almost identically to her role in Marie Antoinette. She's the slut, we get it, with her fuck-me crimson-red costumes and black-as-night hair, but unlike really any of the characters in Sofia Coppola's film, Vellini is the one with depth, with passion and longing, with the sort of raw capacity for feeling and examination.

With Breillat, Argento has again found a director to twine her lustiness into proper effect. Historically speaking, a woman like Vellini wouldn't fit into the world around her. However, in Breillat's world, Argento's performance is radiant, perfectly raw and unhinged in both sexuality and emotions. One gets the greatest sense of Vellini as a character when she tells another woman at a dinner party, "I despise everything feminine, except in young boys." Her desire for the too-pretty-for-his-own-good Ryno starts to make sense, as does she, even if you'd rather not run into her at your next soirée.

As a firm believer than Fat Girl is one of the finest films of the past ten years, I would hardly rank The Last Mistress as highly, and yet it's still remarkable in its own right. Breillat has carried on a filmmaking career path post-Romance that has really defied any expectation I have of her. Her next film is a remake of her own Parfait amour!, entitled less ironically Bad Love and starring supermodel Naomi Campbell and infamous con artist Christophe Rocancourt. Ultimately, The Last Mistress probably won't be regarded as her finest effort, but it's still another wonderful film from the world's most daring female director today. | Joe Bowman

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