'The Last Mistress': an affair to remember

Review B+

August 15, 2008|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Set in 1835 France, The Last Mistress turns the melodramatic pieties of films like Fatal Attraction inside out. The anti-heroine acts like a vampire in reverse: Even when she drinks the anti-hero's blood, she makes him feel more alive.

This startling, uninhibited woman, played to the teeth by Asia Argento, is the daughter of a Spanish matador and an Italian princess. She resists the attentions of an upper-crust libertine (Fu'ad Ait Aattou) until she can resist no more. Then she tumbles into a 10-year affair that ends with his marriage to a virtuous beauty (Roxane Mesquida).

Or does it? That is the mystery that keeps writer-director Catherine Breillat's feral erotic drama going. Argento's proud, direct character gives herself totally to this man. She will never break the sexual-emotional current that she found with him; she needs to possess him, body and soul. Aattou's dandy is naive to think he can simply declare her part of his past. To get rid of her, what he needs is not a restraining order, but an exorcism.

Aattou is perfectly cast as an elegant, feminine gentleman, so graceful he thinks he can slip in and out of relationships without a trace. Mesquida brings unexpected intelligence and vitality to the proper aristocratic woman who shares an easy rapport with her husband but can't express her full range of emotions sexually, the way his lover can.

What makes the movie ineluctably compelling is Argento's fire in the title role. As a woman who's supposed to attract men with her magnetism, not her striking, angular looks, Argento makes you feel that she pulled out all the stops before the camera started running.

This performer puts over the most outre actions - drinking her lover's blood from a fresh bullet wound, slicing him in the cheek with a knife and licking the blade. Taking sexual possession of a man is her character's way of knowing everything about him and releasing everything within herself. Argento isn't afraid to be horrifying - or transporting.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

The Last Mistress

(IFC) Starring Asia Argento, Fu'ad Ait Aattou, Roxane Mesquida. Directed by Catherine Breillat. Unrated. Time 114 minutes. In French with English subtitles.

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