The film centres on a question considered and discussed by a bride-to-be’s open-minded grandmother and her judgemental, gossiping friends: would the womanising but impoverished aristocrat, Ryno de Marigny (Fu’ad Aït Aattou) be willing or able to give up his mistress, La Vellini (Argento) upon his marriage to the virtuous and wealthy Hermangarde (Breillat regular, Roxane Mesquida)? After all, their passionate affair has already survived ten years.
Swiftly and deftly immersing us in the fashions – not just the clothes and decor, but also the changing sexual and social ethics – of the 1830s, Breillat’s meticulous, eloquent script and direction succeed in relating a rich, complex, consistently engrossing story and in providing an insightful commentary on the mores and literary concerns of the time. Argento has never been better, Mesquida and the supporting actors are strong, and Fu’ad Aït Aattou is a real find, his androgyne beauty splendidly cast, his début performance subtle and assured. Witty yet grave, incisive and utterly unsentimental, the film is also – thanks to Yorgos Arvanitis’ camerawork and some judiciously chosen music – wonderfully elegant.