Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Une vielle Maitresse (2007)

(Directed by Catherine Breillat, France, 2007)
(New York Film Festival Notes, Part 2 of 2)

"Une vielle Maitresse" is a wonderful period piece directed by Catherine Breillat, who had a modest success here some years ago with the films "36 Fillette" and "Fat Girl".

Based on a novel by the 19th century French writer Barbey d'Aurevilly (best known for "Les Diaboliques" among other works that remain untranslated), the film starts with the legend "A story from the ancien regime" then proceeds to depict a story set in the height of French Romanticism, around 1830's - 1840's. Disconnect starts early in this film. "Une vielle Maitresse" tells of the romantic affair between a dissolute rake, Ryno de Marigny (Fu'ad Ait Aattou)and the wilful Vellini (Asia Argento) that creates problems when Marigny decides to marry Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida), from a wealthy family. Vellini just keeps popping up during the newlyweds' Normandy home and inadvertently creates devastating consequences for all concerned.

First of all, I liked the period detail in this movie: the two leads are strikingly androgynous: Argento, with her handsome allure is very George Sand-ish and Aattou looks younger, very feminine in features to her character's mannish boldness. The affair is told through a flashback that Marigny narrates to the Marquise de Fler (Claude Saurraute, daughter of the novelist Nathalie Saurraute) and Hermengarde's relative. The witty dialogue throughout this scene is a delight, as well as the sumptuous visual decor and narrative. The two leads have some rather odd sex scenes, but Asia Argento is rather sexy, at times she reminded me of a prettier Anna Magnani; and seems to outshine every scene she's in. The actor playing Marigny, while being overpowered, smiles obligingly.

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