The Last Mistress DVD Review

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Best described as French Provincial period porn with the accent on that culture’s soaps rather than perfumes, The Last Mistress is perhaps most noted for its equally graphic and dull sexuality on screen. Writer/director Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl), a filmmaker who could once be counted on to subvert male perspectives around cinematic libidinous impulses with a bold female point of view, now seems to have set aside creativity in the service of controversy, for more acceptable if weirdly conceived conventions.

Asia Argento, a sexually flamboyant screen rebel in her own right, is La Vellini, an uninhibited Spaniard of mysterious origins during the reign of Louis Phillipe. La Vellini abandons her much older British nobleman spouse after she succumbs to the aggressive bordering on abusive seductive advances of the dashing young decadent womanizer aristocrat, de Marigny (Fu-ad Ait Aattou).

Following a duel over the fickle femme fatale during which her husband seriously wounds de Marigny and she then samples sips of his blood as he recovers, the pair flees France for Algeria. There they seek a life of sexual abandon and liberation from social conventions.

Based on the 19th century novel by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly and told through a series of elaborate flashbacks, the drama focuses on a period a decade later when de Marigny has grown apart from La Vellini and proposes marriage to the virginal blueblood, Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida). La Vellini for her part, has acquired an assortment of affluent lovers who support her lavish lifestyle. But de Marigny’s approaching marriage re-ignites her all-consuming sexual passion for him, and the cigar-puffing seductress follows the couple into the countryside to rekindle their affair, if not outright reclaim him. Though it’s not entirely clear what constitutes La Vellini’s designation as The Last Mistress, as she may very well be The First Stalker.

This tedious and ponderous costume drama – that is, during those occasional times when the characters actually keep their costumes on – plods along from gabbing to whining to gossip to sex. Then more gabbing, whining, gossip and sex.

Well, actually the explicit sex is fairly stationary, as the characters whine, gossip and gab away while awkwardly poised in exceedingly compromising pornographic positions. Which is incidentally a state of mind seemingly favored in French cinema, where small talk tends to replace dialogue on a fairly regular basis. And that could be a particularly exasperating chore for viewers who rely on subtitles, as you may find yourself reading this movie, instead of watching it.

IFC Films

Unrated

one star

DVD Features: Theatrical Trailers.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.