Monday, November 03, 2008


Catherine Breilliat's French period drama is a beautifully played tragedy that never feels starchy or staid although it sometimes feels just plain bizarre. Okay, so maybe this is 1850s French high society but how many people do you know who talk in intimate detail about previous liasons with their future mother-in-laws? Such is the implausible framing device of Barbey d'Aurevilly's novel and this new movie. A young rake is sitting in his future mother-in-law's salon explaining his entanglement with a prostitute called Vellini. As a young man, Ryno (Fu'ad Ait Aattou) had dismissed Vellini as old, crumpled and vulgar, but no sooner had he said those words than, Mr Darcy-style, he fell into erotomania. They conduct a ten-year affair until Ryno throws Vellini over for a diametrically opposite, virginally pure, rich young girl. Soon after the wedding, Ryno spirits his bride away to the coast in order to escape temptation. But temptation follows him, with tragic consequences. Desire cannot be fettered.

THE LAST MISTRESS works because it balances attention to period detail and visual flair with an apparently modern take on sexual relations, not to mention solid central performances from Fu'ad Ait and Asia Argento in a role that seems made for her. It's a costume drama for people who prefer LA REINE MARGOT to Jane Austen, with none of the austere trauma of NE TOUCHEZ PAS LA HACHE.

THE LAST MISTRESS/UNE VIEILLE MAITRESSE played Cannes, Toronto and London 2007 and was released last year in France, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Russia, Australia and Turkey. It was released in the UK, Brazil and South Korea earlier this year. It is now available on DVD.

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