This latest production from the controversial French auteur Catherine Breillat was delayed due to a stroke and was hampered due to an illness of feral Italian actress Asia Argento (XXX). She's a major plus in a rich cinematic pastry thematically akin to other Breillat films like Fat Girl or Romance.
But, The Last Mistress (in French with English subtitles, translated in French as "The Old Mistress") is an entertaining intimate Victorian era chamber drama with much sweep (if a striking North African desert sequence is any indication).
This loquacious examination of sexual politics with a feminine slant plays to Argento's abilities, especially on the carnal end. But, the titillating turn she offers doesn't veer off the deep end as 19th century courtesan Vellini.
A long flashback allows for exposition into what becomes a love triangle, with Vellini at its tip. Apparently, she was the illegimate offspring of a famous Spanish matador and an Italian princess. She is not willing to let go of a decade-long tryst with handsome libertine aristocrat Ryno, fulsomely-lipped, androgynous Fu'ad Ait Aattou. Ryno expresses being totally enamored with his new virginal blonde bride Hermangarde, the beauteous Roxane Mesquida.
The florid, if less than usually explicit tale from Breillat, works noticeably well from the ongoing attraction between Ryno and a very jealous Vellini who doesn't keep a low profile during her honeymoon.
Breillat sets up some telling moments of foreplay that simmers with some sadomasochistic eroticism as some discerning arthouse folks might see elements of Dangerous Liasons here. Perhaps, also with a streak of Fatal Attraction when it comes to the cold-hearted faced with their urges. Some will be drawn easily into scenes either vampiric in nature, or having a cigar and ice cream cone.
There may be disagreement into how well Argento and Aattou generate sparks together, but it's clear how they immerse themselves the sexuality of the material. Though the corsets come off in time, The Last Mistress speaks often to the intimacy and complications of relationships and the way women, in particular, to their own specific desires.
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