Une Vielle Maitresse Catherine Breillat

Une Vielle Maitresse Catherine Breillat
This latest effort by Catherine Breillat is surprisingly inexplicit — there’s no rape, genital close-ups or unnatural use of foreign objects. But if you think that means the artist has mellowed, think again.

Set in the 1830s, the film tells the story of Vellini (Asia Argento), the decade-long mistress of noted libertine Ryno de Varigny (Fu’ad Ait Attou). After an extended sexual relationship, Ryno is set to marry virtuous aristocrat Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida) and must give up Vellini’s company in order to do so. But that doesn’t mean Vellini won’t resent the hell out of this arrangement or show up from a distance to tempt him.

Whatever the more subdued elements of this movie, it’s still as socially brutal as anything in the Breillat canon. The hypocrisies of courtly love and the delusions of social propriety are laid bare — the film’s marriage, clearly a pretence and a transaction more than a genuine relationship, is the screen on which various delusional ideals are projected.

Argento knocks it out of the park with a convulsive performance that suits the character, while Attou appropriately shows the same kind of blank impassivity that marked the idiot boyfriend from the director’s Romance. If the film is less lacerating than Breillat’s usual work it’s still no Merchant Ivory costumer — the period locations are lit like porn and the fancy costumes are used to hide the bodies whose truths must inevitably come out.

It’s not a masterpiece or one of the auteur’s major films but it’s still a highly watchable shredding of the polite conventions of both the society it depicts and the genre to which it is nominally connected. (Mongrel Media)