To realize this is a film by Catherine Breillat is much the same as realizing The Age of Innocence was a film by Martin Scorsese. Just as Scorsese "tamed" his bloody wild side with the rather staid but still quite alluringly luscious period piece adaptation of Edith Wharton, Breillat seems to subside her own rather feral filmmaking style in order to take on the dreaded period costume drama. Yet, just as one could look beneath the layers of The Age of Innocence and see the depth of character and spot Scorsese being Scorsese, one can look under the covers here and find a rather bawdy - though our jaded modern sensibilities may not see it that way - bedroom sex farce-cum-desolation story. And the one thing under those covers that makes us all sit up and take notice is the quite feral herself Asia Argento.
Creature du jour of modern cinema, Argento's Vellini, a woman of quite rabid disrepute in 19th Century Parisian society, is as sexually vibrant as any character the actress has played - and she has played quite a few sexual characters. Fucking with the aural audacity of a libidinous cantatrice and lasciviously drinking the blood of her lover as if some sort of savage carnal praying mantis going in for the post-coital kill, only to eventually succumb to the pain of loss and degredation, Argento plays her role like she plays every other role, as if it were the last part she will ever get to play. Argento acts as if the world will end when the screen goes dark and this works perfectly with the bang-bang shock cinema of Breillat, even when it is set in a world of drawing rooms and high society. The stunning hubris of Fat Girl, Romance and/or Anatomy of Hell (for better or for worse?) may not be readily seen in the lush padded parlours of The Last Mistress, but thanks to the wanton bestial sexuality of Asia Argento, one feels as if it is there after all. [06/27/08]