Directed by: Catherine Breillat
Countries & Regions: France, Italy
Length: 102 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 25 August 2008
Cat No: ART381DVD
Screen ratio 1:1.78
Dolby Digital 5.1
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The Last Mistress
Period love and lust in 19th century Paris. For nearly ten years, aristocrat Ryno de Marigny (Fu’ad Ait Aatou) has shared a passionate... Read More
Few could have expected that Catherine Breillat, filmmaker and professional agent provocateuse, would turn to a 19th century classic novel for the inspiration for her latest picture. After her explicit studies of (predominantly female) sexuality - Romance, A ma soeur!, the outrageous Anatomy of Hell - she here adapts Une vieille maîtresse, a novel by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly that was attacked for immorality on its publication.
Set in “the century of Choderlos de Laclos” (the author of Les liaisons dangereuses, whose influence flowed into the proceeding century), The Last Mistress follows the conventions of the traditional heritage film in order to subvert them. Breillat spins the narrative around a roguish womaniser and gambler (Fu’ad Aït Aattou, impressive in his debut), who intends to marry a virtuous heiress in spite of her grandmother’s disapproval. However, the reappearance of his scandalous old flame (Asia Argento) threatens to destroy the romance.
Argento gives an extraordinary portrayal - seductive, feral, and at times almost operatic, it is a daring performance that could easily have tipped into camp. In contrast to the chaste heiress, the typical period heroine, she ignites the screen; excited by death, she provokes a duel that nearly kills the hero, and literally laps at his wounds with animalistic fervour. With such strong leads, Breillat does not employ as many sex scenes as in her previous oeuvre, yet The Last Mistress does feature two lengthy scènes de lit that rebel against heritage conventions. With the film's unbridled passion contrasts and lavish production values, it's ironic that the most visually striking scene is not in an opulent palace but in the middle of a desert - another canny subversion by Breillat.
Four years ago Breillat suffered a massive brain haemorrhage, yet overcame her condition to make this marvellous film, declaring: “I may be disabled, but my films won't be, even though many films are." Sadly she has recently suffered another attack, and has not worked since the film’s completion. On the basis of The Last Mistress, this would be a sad loss for French cinema. Long may she continue to (agent) provoke.