Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Last Mistress (FRENCH)

(Une Vieille Maitresse)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Controversial Feminist Director Catherine Breillat Explores Female Desire in Historical Drama

Catherine Breillat is known for exploring such themes as loss of innocence, female desire and violence against women in a sexually-explicit fashion which some of her detractors have labeled as pornographic. Although protests have never discouraged the controversial French director from continuing to propagate her unique approach to moviemaking in films like Romance, Fat Girl, 36 Fillette and Sex Is Comedy, she did experience a personal setback in October of 2004 when she suffered a stroke which left half her body paralyzed.
The Last Mistress, Breillat’s first release since recovering from the illness, is a bit of a departure for the inveterate iconoclast. For the picture at least superficially reads like a conventional costume drama. Set in the 19th Century during the reign of King Louis Phillippe, the story revolves a classic love triangle in which Ryno de Marigny (Fu’ad Aft Aattou), an impoverished aristocrat, finds himself torn between his long-term mistress, Vellini (Asia Arguento), and Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida), his filthy-rich fiancĂ©e.
Although he has an undeniable animal attraction for the former, he informs her at the point of departure that he’s breaking off their torrid, ten-year affair because he’s just gotten engaged to a beautiful young virgin. Needless to say, since Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, Vellini doesn’t take that news well, and decides to try to wreck Ryno’s impending marriage by seducing him back.
Thus, the essential question being addressed by The Last Mistress is whether a man might be able to abandon a woman he lusts for one with a trust. En route to the answer, via the magic of flashbacks, we are treated to a retrospective of Ryno and Vellini’s past together, during which we learn that she was once stuck in a marriage of convenience herself, that she and Ryno’s tempestuous relationship had produced a child, and that he was once challenged to a duel by her husband.
It’s clear their only bona fide bond is a carnal codependency which reveals them both to be bottomless pits of desire who merely mirror each other to the point of mutual disgust. Self –indulgent sexaholism as a pre-feminist mantra and mandate.

Very Good (3 stars)
In French with subtitles.
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

To see a trailer of The Last Mistress, visit:

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