A seducer, An Old Mistress and a young wife
by Fabien Lemercier
An expert at exploring the dependence between bodies and souls, controversial French director Catherine Breillat – selected for the first time in official competition at the Cannes Film Festival and doyenne of directors – presented this morning An Old Mistress [+see also:
film profile], an unexpected and surprisingly tame film.
Recycling her pet themes in an adaptation of the Barbey d'Aurevilly novel Une vieille maîtresse, set in 19th century Paris, the director – who at the end of 2004 survived a dangerous brain haemorrhage that left her half paralysed for several months – has made what is almost a traditional feature, with potent love-hate relationships at the core of the plot dampened by the distance of the language of the aristocracy.
The love triangle that drives the story is composed of talented actors. Asia Argento portrays a character whose volcanic potential is well controlled by Breillat and unknown actor Fu'ad Ait Aattou makes an impressive first performance, while Roxane Mesquida, Claude Sarraute, Yolande Moreau and Michael Lonsdale all put in impeccable performances despite some off moments in a film that unwinds on a knife-edge but still keeps a firm hand.
Conquest and counter conquest, feelings and longing, debauchery and marriage: An Old Mistress dissects an 11-year affair between the handsome, unrepentant Don Juan Ryno de Marigny (Aattou) and Andalusian man-hunter Vellini (Argento).
On the verge of breaking off with a previous lover to marry the naive Hermangarde (Mesquida), the young dandy recounts through flashbacks the intoxicating relationship (which include moments of self-pride, eroticism, mockery of tradition, a child’s death and jealousy).
However, the past has weaved a knot impossible to undo. A sentimental story with novelistic twists and turns (duels, horse-riding, evenings at the opera, seaside manor, coaches) coupled with a study of the upper class of the era whose seductive oratory jousts unveil a universe of disparagement and social strategy.
Despite the efforts, none of this enthused Cannes’ audiences, but the film did please in terms of production design, costumes and elegant camera work by DoP Yorgos Arvanitis.
Produced by Flach Film, An Old Mistress was co-produced by CB Films, France 3 Cinéma, Studio Canal and Italy’s Burskin Film (10%) for a total budget of €7.22m. Backed by advances on receipts from the CNC, the Ile-de-France region and pre-sales from Canal+ and TPS, the film will be released in France on May 30 through StudioCanal and is being sold internationally by Pyramide.
(Translated from French)
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