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In the Paris of 1835, Vicomte de Prony (Michael Lonsdale) visits his young friend Vellini (Asia Argento), a flamboyant Spanish woman in her mid-30s to warn her that her lover of 10 years, the handsome but penniless Ryno de Marigny (Fu'ad Ait Aatou) is about to marry the aristocratic Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida). Vellini brushes the threat aside, confident in her bond with her Ryno. A few days before the wedding, Hermangarde's grandmother, Marquise de Flers (Claude Sarraute) confronts the young libertine with his past, and especially his attachment to Vellini, and asks why she should trust him to make her granddaughter happy. Ryno de Marigny convinces her he means to remain loyal andreveals details of his past, including the trauma that changed his relationship with Vellini. She consents to the marriage - but the old mistress isn't content to be forgotten.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is the century of (Dangerous Liaisons author) Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, declares the card at the start of the film, and anyone who has enjoyed Stephen Frears' adaptation of that work, starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich, should not expect an echo here. It may be the same period, but it's not as powerful a story. Indeed, I don't much care for this overworked love triangle, made more titillating merely by the period costumes, which make sexual teasing more intense. And it wouldn't be a Catherine Breillat film if the sex weren't thrust into a prominent position, pardon the pun.

But yes, sex is indeed the currency of the story of sexual infidelity; interestingly in view of Breillat's feminist sensibilities, the difference between love and lust is equally blurred in Vellini (Asia Argento) the mistress and Ryno (Fu'ad Ait Aatou) the lover who continues the affair - albeit reluctantly - after his marriage. She begins the affair while still hating him; he continues it on her urging while still in love with his wife.

While the story may creak, the performances do not; a wonderful cast breathes life into the characters, including the veterans like Claude Sarraute as the wife's grandmother, Michael Lonsdale as Vicomte de Prony who shares concerns about the young rake with middle-aged Countess d'Artelles, the excellent Yolande Moreau. Fu'ad Ait Aatou seems far too young to play his 30 year old character, although in the flashbacks he passes as a boyish 20 year old. Asia Argento is sensuous and volatile as the Spanish femme fatale, whose marriage to an old gent at the start of the story suggests an opportunistic bent.

Strangely unsatisfying, the film nevertheless looks superb and Breillat's direction is fluid, aided by top notch editing and a great score. It's just a shame we don't get more involved on an emotional level with the characters.

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(France/Italy, 2007)

Une vieille maitresse

CAST: Asia Argento, Fu'ad Ait Aattou, Roxanne Mesquida, Claude Sarraute, Yolande Moreau, Michael Lonsdale, Anne Parillaud, Jean-Phillipe Tesse, Sarah Pratt, Amira Casar

PRODUCER: Jean-Francois Lepetit

DIRECTOR: Catherine Breillat

SCRIPT: Catherine Breillat (novel by Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Giorgos Arvanitis

EDITOR: Pascale Chavance

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francois-Renaud Labarthe

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 15, 2007

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