Une vieille maîtresse (2007)
aka: The Last Mistress
A film directed by Catherine Breillat

Genre: Drama / Romance

Review published:


Une vieille maîtresse photo
Paris, 1835. High society awaits with some trepidation the impending marriage of Ryno de Marigny, a notorious libertine, with Hermangarde, the unsullied daughter of the Marquis de Flers. There are many who fear this could be the mésalliance of the century, and with reason. For ten years, Ryno de Marigny has been the lover of La Vellini, an unscrupulous courtesan who delights in tormenting her admirers. How can such a hot blooded Don Juan as De Marigny content himself with a mere girl who has yet to taste the forbidden fruit of passion...?
© filmsdefrance.com 2012

Film Review

Catherine Breillat is no stranger to controversy. The director who shocked audiences with her overt portrayal of female sexuality and outrageously lurid sex scenes in a string of films that includes Une vraie jeune fille (1976), 36 fillette (1988) and Romance (1999), Breillat pushed the envelope so far that many regard her work as blatant pornography. However, perhaps nothing surprised the critics and audiences more than when this most unconventional of filmmakers veered away from the overtly provocative and instead made Une vieille maîtresse, a restrained period drama in the classical French tradition.

Arguably Breillat's best film to date, Une vieille maîtresse is a much darker, far more contemplative work than we have so far seen from this director. The passions and desires that are so apparent in her earlier films are still there, but less visible, just as they would have been in a more sexually repressed era. There are still plenty of graphic sex scenes (this is, after all, Breillat's trademark) but here the explicit eroticism serves a darker purpose, reminding us that the sexual imperative can be a curse that has the power to corrupt and ultimately destroy even those who had intended to lead a virtuous and unblemished life.

In his first (and only) screen credit to date, Fu'ad Ait Aattou is a revelation in the role of the tormented libertine Ryno de Marigny. With realism edged with a subtle poignancy, the former male model conveys the anguish of a Byronic young man who becomes a slave to his tempestuous carnal passions. Here is an actor of immense talent and charisma who clearly has a great future ahead of him. No less impressive is the stunning Asia Argento, who plays the manipulative courtesan Vellini with an almost sadistic feline allure - a temptress that no man can resist, but a woman that no man would ever dare to marry.

So has Catherine Breillat turned a new page?  Is this the beginning of a new phase in her career, where the romanticism and eroticism of her earlier films acquire a deeper significance as she probes what lies beneath the surface of our darkest and deadliest desires?   It is too perhaps soon to tell, but if Une vieille maîtresse is anything to go by, Breillat is a director who still clearly has a great deal to tell us.

© James Travers 2009

The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.

Other drama/romance films of the 2000s from France that are recommended viewing include: Joe Wright's Atonement (2007), Christophe Honoré's Les Chansons d'amour (2007), Zabou Breitman's Je l'aimais (2009), Cédric Kahn's Les Regrets (2009) and André Téchiné's Les Témoins (2007).

Where to watch this film

The film Une vieille maîtresse may be available on amazon via the following links:
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Film Credits

  • Director: Catherine Breillat
  • Script: Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly (novel), Catherine Breillat
  • Photo: Giorgos Arvanitis
  • Cast: Asia Argento (Vellini), Fu'ad Aït Aattou (Ryno de Marigny), Roxane Mesquida (Hermangarde), Claude Sarraute (La marquise de Flers), Yolande Moreau (La comtesse d'Artelles), Michael Lonsdale (Le vicomte de Prony), Anne Parillaud (Mme de Solcy), Jean-Philippe Tesse (Le vicomte de Mareuil), Sarah Pratt (La comtesse de Mendoze), Amira Casar (Mademoiselle Divine des Airelles), Lio (La chanteuse), Isabelle Renauld (L'arrogante), Léa Seydoux (Oliva), Nicholas Hawtrey (Sir Reginald), Caroline Ducey (La dame de Pique), Jean-Claude Binoche (Le comte de Cerisy), Thomas Hardy (Le valet de Mareuil), Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand (Le valet de Rigny), Eric Bouhier (Le chirurgien), Frédéric Botton (Le cardinal de Flers), Patrick Tétu (Père Griffon), Aurélien Foubert (Garçon d'honneur), Marie-Victoire Debré (La courtisane), Camille Schnebelen (La femme délaissée), Ashley Wanninger (Prétendant Vellini)
  • Country: France / Italy
  • Language: French
  • Support: Color
  • Runtime: 104 min
  • Aka: The Last Mistress

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