The Last Mistress

  • Film
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Less metaphysical, or physical, than ‘Romance’ or ‘Anatomy of Hell’, less naturalistic than ‘A Ma Soeur!’, less self-reflexive than ‘Sex Is Comedy’, and – notwithstanding the presence of Asia Argento – less provocative than any of the above, Catherine Breillat’s latest is as philosophically rigorous and psychologically revealing as anything she’s made. For once in her remarkable career, the French writer-director has elected to adapt someone else’s material: the eponymous nineteenth-century novel by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly.

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.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday April 11 2008
Duration: 116 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Catherine Breillat
Screenwriter: Catherine Breillat
Cast: Asia Argento
Roxane Mesquida
Fu'ad Ait Aattou
Claude Sarraute
Yolande Moreau
Michael Lonsdale
Anne Parillaud
Amira Casar
Caroline Ducey

Average User Rating

5 / 5

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Bee

Fu'ad Ait Aattou is amazing. The film is gripping and entertaining. a labour of love and long-standing ambition of Catherine Breillat and it shows.

Bee

Fu'ad Ait Aattou is amazing. The film is gripping and entertaining. a labour of love and long-standing ambition of Catherine Breillat and it shows.