Interview-Review: Catherine Breillat’s The Last Mistress (2007) or Men: They Couldn’t Be Faithful if They Tried

the last mistress
What’s this movie The Last Mistress? I’ve never heard of it. Tell us about it.
Well, this is a film based on Jules Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly 1851 novel Une vielle maîtresse (A Former Mistress), which also happens to be the original title of the film. Barbey d’Aurevilly was an aristocrat, a dandy and his works could be classified as romantic. The book was adapted by French auteur Catherine Breillat. 

The story is set in 18th century France and is about this young aristocrat, Ryno de Marigny (Fu’ad Aït Aattou) who is marrying this virtuous woman Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida), even though he’s still in love with his mistress Vellini (Asia Argento). Of course there’s a lot of drama, tears and broken hearts. Also, great costumes and luxuries, if you’re into that. The French sure knew how to party. Every time I see these period pieces I wish I lived during that time.

Yeah, I bet. So what else can we look forward to with this film?
This is actually Léa Seydoux‘s second screen credit. I was surprised to see her in this film, now that she’s sort of a big name. She has a small role, but I liked seeing her in this. The music is fantastic, I absolutely loved it. I’ve already mentioned Anaïs Romand’s costumes, they are great because you don’t notice them. They’re not showy, but when I think of the film I realize that they’re great precisely because they don’t call attention to themselves and sort of just blend in naturally with the rest of the film.

Ok. Was there anything you didn’t like about The Last Mistress?
To be honest…

Yes. Be honest.
Sure. To be honest…

You already said that.
Yeah well, you’re interrupting me.

Sorry. Go ahead.
As I was saying…

You weren’t saying anything
Well, now you’re just being annoying.

I’m sorry.
Okay, well… I didn’t like Asia Argento in this film. I thought that aside from one or two scenes her acting was pretty much terrible. She’s one of the main characters, so that’s a bit problematic. Everyone else was good or at least okay, Fu’ad Aït Aattou (cool name right?) was great. But yeah, I didn’t like Argento’s performance at all. Actually, I wonder why she was even cast for this film. I know she was in Marie Antoinette (2006) and all, but honestly I think she’s out of place here.

Also, and there’s no way for me to know this, but I’m pretty sure Breillat changed the story from the book a great deal to make some of her usual anti-male statements. It’s fine I don’t mind, we get it you think men are horrible creatures, but I’m pretty sure that’s not Barbey d’Aurevilly’s message. He was a man and the character of Ryno was meant to be a tormented and sympathetic one, as rightfully portrayed by Aït Aattou. Hermangarde really wants to believe in love.

But Breillat decides that somehow they all have to fit her own character archetypes as well, and that’s where a lot of contradictions come up that make the story feel incoherent. I also rarely have problems with pacing in Catherine Breillat films, but this one felt like it was dragging a little bit. If you’re familiar with her stories you know how it’s going to end anyway, so I thought like: Can we skip to the end? We know it’s not going to end well anyway, so why not save us all the tralalà?

Tralalà is not a word. But would you recommend this film?
I mean, if you like period pieces, sure. Check it out. If you like Catherine Breillat, of course, you’ll probably like it a little bit. I’m a bit harsh on this film, but only because she has done so many better ones. But it’s not a bad movie. If intrigues, marriages and all that aristocracy drama sounds appealing to you I’m not going to dissuade you from seeking this one out. I’m glad I watched it, but I’m not going to revisit it anytime soon.

Any closing thoughts? Anything you want to get out before I…
Yeah, the ending is rough. It’s implied that something horrible happens, but we don’t really get to see how. It’s also just sort of left hanging there. I hate being so mysterious, but I don’t want to give anything away, but anyway, I think that if she would have shown us what happened or at least more of the “results” of what happened, it would have been more effective. Again, the film ends with a character commenting on how he knew that Ryno was a cheating piece of shit.

And that just seems like Breillat throwing something in there, to make a point. It’s annoying, it does a disservice to the story, the film should have ended with Hermangarde’s character and what she has done and not this old man on the carriage patting Breillat on the back (metaphorically speaking of course). I don’t know, I guess when all is said and done I am a little bit disappointed by this film, but at the same time there’s also a lot of good in it, so I’d say this one falls sort of somewhere in the middle.

6.5 out of 10

3 comments

    • Davide Perretta

      Thank you Anna 🙂
      I’ve seen almost all of her films at this point and while this is one of her weaker efforts, I have yet to see a “bad” Catherine Breillat film. So basically you can’t go wrong with her filmography if you like her style.

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