July 18, 2008

Argento Deserves A Better Lover

By Susan Dunne, The Hartford Courant, Conn.

Jul. 18--Asia Argento is not the most beautiful woman in the world, or the most elegant. But she is one of the sexiest. Her unquenchable fire is the soul of "The Last Mistress," and she justifies her casting in the lead role. If any woman would spoil a man for all other women, it would be Argento's human volcano, Senora Vellini.

Catherine Breillat's potboiler would be even more satisfying if Argento were paired with a more intriguing leading man than Fu'ad Ait Aattou. In a story that spans 11 years, Aattou's Ryno de Marigny doesn't age a day, in years, knowledge or wisdom. His face and soul begin, and remain, a blank slate, making Senora Vellini's passion mystifying. Such a fascinating woman surely wouldn't waste her charms on this handsome but insipid youth.

Ryno is a wastrel who steals Senora Vellini away from her much older husband and loves her out of wedlock for 10 tumultuous years. Then he meets Hermengarde, a naive, wealthy noblewoman who is crazy about him. Ryno marries Hermengarde. But Senora Vellini won't let go easily.

Other than Aattou, and Argento's hackneyed wardrobe, Breillat's adaptation of the 19th-century novel by Jules-Amedee Barbey d'Aurevilly is splendid and sexy, a meticulously produced bodice-ripper. Argento and Breillat would do well to team up again. Breillat loves explicit sex, and Argento seems a bottomless font of the same.

Actually, the movie can be called an anti-bodice-ripper. Ryno is no noble and mysterious rascal waiting for a sexy, good woman to tame him. Ryno is a rat, transparent as water, and happy to let Senora Vellini cling to him, even if it breaks Hermengarde's heart.

The supporting roles are cast to perfection, particularly the delightful Claude Sarraute, a former film critic for the Parisian daily Le Monde, as Hermengarde's grandmother. It seems every European film out there has a well-written role for an elderly actress. Wouldn't it be nice if American films did the same? Maybe in this lifetime it'll happen. But more likely not.

THE LAST MISTRESS is an IFC Films release of a film written and directed by Catherine Breillat; 114 minutes. Unrated, but with violence, language, lots of graphic sex. French with subtitles. Playing at Madison Art Cinemas.

Contact Susan Dunne at [email protected]

----*--Classic; ----Excellent; ----Good; --Fair; --Poor; --Don't bother


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