Favorites: The Last Mistress
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Written by Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly, Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit
Starring Fu'ad Aït Aattou, Asia Argento, Claude Sarraute, Roxane Mesquida, Yolande Moreau, Michael Lonsdale
A decade of shared lubricity, adoration, hardship and heartbreak bind the fates and souls of a sullenly sensual Spanish peeress (Argento) and her roué (Aattou) of passion matched who first spurns, then aggressively courts her before braving death by duel with her elderly English husband to win her hand and heart. Rived by tragedy and accompanying acrimony, their ardency seems stinted well ere his betrothal to a pristine, virtuous yet insipid noblewoman (Mesquida) with whom his devotion is reciprocal, but this renewal may not long survive a quiescent warmth for or the resolution of the foxy virago he thought he'd forsaken. Rococo costumery, hairstyling and Parisian venues of Breillat's greatest critical and commercial success prove vivid 19th-century accoutrements to complement emotive niceties and incandescence educed from familiar players. As often before and since, she inspires treasures in redoubtable veterans and relative neophytes (as Mesquida, her most frequent favored actress) alike, but under her command, Argento's coruscation as the fast and fickle noblewoman nearly eclipses her co-stars, consummating what may prove the role of her career -- a fantastic feat that she'd never achieve under her father's baton. One of d'Aurevilly's most cunning ironies resides in the observations of an aged countess (Moreau) and her blasé husband (Lonsdale) who've acquaintance with all concerned, and whose tendencious adjudgements are more objective than any others pondered herein. Less ironic is Breillat's sympathy for d'Aurevilly's novel; echoing the precedent Prévost, his fascination with the full purview of a patrician woman's pull and power in a predominately masculine society to verify the fugacity of fidelity and love's endurance was undoubtedly irresistible to the finest living (if yet unacknowledged) feminist filmmaker.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Barry Lyndon.