The Fast Forward Revue


Film Review: The Last Mistress by E. Sempé

 

Fast Forward Rating: FFF¾ (3¾ out of 5)

 

The Last Mistress – French director Catherine Breillat’s latest cinematic offering based on the 1851 novel by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly – is a film that explores the precarious border between passion and hate. And thanks to a remarkably strong performance from the title role of Asia Argento, it succeeds in demonstrating that these two seemingly contradictory sentiments can occasionally be synonymous. The Last Mistress, set in 1835, revolves around Ryno de Marigny (Fu-ad Ait Aattou), a notorious Parisian libertine who is engaged to be married to the reputable and infinitely innocent young Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida), granddaughter to the wealthy Marquise de Flers (Claude Sarraute). The pending marriage is however shadowed by the infamous relationship between Marigny and his mistress of ten years, Vellini (Argento), a brutishly seductive woman who declares herself the enemy of all  things feminine – except, of course, when these things are demonstrated in the features of young men.

 

 

The film takes us through the ten-year affair between Marigny and Vellini, as well as their relationship once the former has ventured into supposedly-respectable married life. While its plot is somewhat predictable, the film is carried by Argento’s throaty sensuality and Aattou’s perplexingly effeminate beauty. And seeing as the bulk of the film focuses on these two elements – displayed to the best effect in the unabashedly many bedroom scenes – Breillat demonstrates that she knows what she’s doing, and knows what works to her advantage. While the complex relationship between Marigny and Vellini is truly compelling to witness, the structure and plot that fortify the story-line is easily lost due to the less enthralling performances from periphal characters, who portray the French aristocracy as uni-dimensional gossip-lovers, but not much more.

 

 

In spite of this, the central dilemma of the Marigny-Vellini affair is enough to satisfactorily hold up the rest of the film – which is further aided by the sheer beauty of its visuals. Even the somewhat drawn-out silences are made bearable by the engrossing aesthetic stimulation on screen.

Overall, while The Last Mistress may not be the chef-d’œuvre you were hoping for from Catherine Breillat, it is a satisfying film, and certainly worth seeing. Three and three quarters out of five.

 

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