Film review: The Last Mistress

The Last Mistress
Une Vieille Maîtresse
2007
Flach Film, Studio Canal

STARRING Asia Argento, Fu’ad Aït Aattou, Roxane Mesquida, Claude Sarraute, Yolande Moreau
WRITTEN BY Catherine Breillat
PRODUCED BY Jean-François Lepetit
DIRECTED BY Catherine Breillat

SHOT BY Giorgos Arvanitis
EDITED BY Pascale Chavance
DISTRIBUTED BY Studio Canal

Screened 2008-06-18

1835, France.  Luscious, epitomized pretty-boy Ryno de Marigny (newcomer Fu’ad Aϊt Aattou – have fun pronouncing that) is a notorious libertine, not unlike Les Liaisons Dangereuses’s Valmont.  At least he was – he’s turned around.  He’s going to marry a lady, a pale, virginal vision of loveliness embodied in Breillat’s baby doll Roxane Mesquida, of Fat Girl fame.  Or is this desire to reform, perhaps, just a rebound, a counteraction, from his former relationship…?  Asia Argento plays engorged walking clitoris La Vellini, de Marigny’s former mistress and vicious nymphomaniacal layabout.  During an extended flashback we experience the story of de Marigny and Vellini’s romance: boy insults girl, boy meets girl, girl hates boy, girl’s husband shoots boy, girl drinks boy’s blood and falls in love with him, girl leaves husband, boy and girl spend ten years locked together at the thighs.  As Vellini cringes, quivers, grimaces and shoots daggers, youthful de Marigny begins to wonder if perhaps there is not more to life (a similar version of this dynamic could be postulated between Breillat and the audience).  Poor de Marigny and Vellini discover that insatiability, desire without limits, consumes lives.

Breillat’s greatest contribution to film may be her continuing journey to find the Omega of pillow talk.  Her craft is above average but not meticulous; questionable period standards left me knitting my brow.  Typically period pieces inspire filmmakers to increase the breadth of their visions, but Mistress, told almost entirely in medium shots and close-ups, feels more like a tawdry paperback than a hearty tome, and incidentally is bookended by two old gossips anyway.  Breillat’s universe and language is one of desire, therefore the world that is portrayed always has a curious slant that does not seem to recognize the existence of the profound – it is flesh without spirit, it is superficial.  I can’t deny that this was a labor of love, and Breillat is not without patience and care – but just not enough for the tastes of this reviewer.  Just ask yourself this: what do you get out of watching an addict get, or not get, her fix?  Wouldn’t you rather just get yours?

written by David Ashley

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