If filmmaker Catherine Breillat could be anyone in the world, she’d be the man pictured at left. Yes, the guy who looks like Lemmy from Motorhead dressed for the Dickens Fair.
“I have always said that if I had been born in a different century, I would have been Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly,” says the director of “The Last Mistress,” which opened in the US last week.
The film, which is loosely based on a novel by d’Aurevilly, centers around Ryno de Marigny, a proud libertine and gambler who strolls through life with his “hands in his pockets and nose in the air.”
The film stars prettyboy newcomer and Angelina Jolie lookalike (emphasis on jolie) Fu’ad Ait Aattou, who had never acted before and who therefore gives off the requisite air of dandy detachment.
Asia Argento, daughter of Italian horror film legend Dario Argento, is the film’s leading lady and a classic belle-laide.
Fans of Barbey’s fiction will enjoy a long sequence in the heart of the film that makes use of his favorite literary device, the recit parlé, or spoken narrative. Breillat’s adaptation also preserves the themes of mystery, revenge, passion and death that permeate all the work of Barbey, who was born in the sign of Scorpio and shares the sign’s preoccupations to the highest degree.
The press kit for the film includes the following remarks from Breillat:
On discovering the book Une Vieille Maitresse: I enjoyed the dandyism, a last shout from the aristocracy. Just like the Marquise de Flers, I am “absolutely 18th century.” The 18th century was more elegant and open-minded than the 19th, when the middle classes came into power, bringing narrow-mindedness and rigorously strict moral principles.
I also loved all these highly androgynous characters. Ryno is a terrible womanizer, a sort of Valmont (DANGEROUS LIAISONS), but he is also, like many dandies, deeply feminine. I’ve often dreamt about Michelangelo and the “Portrait of a Young Man” by Lorenzo Lotto (which is also in the film), about these men of dazzling beauty, a certain feminine beauty, yet without being effeminate.
The story could only take place in an aristocratic environment. When struggling to survive, feeding a family and finding a room for shelter, there is no time for the leisure of romance. Not enough time to experience the pureness. Sentiment can only be expressed in a certain level of comfort where it is not tainted by the harsh realities of life. The way many great authors of that era expressed strong feeling in such idealistic settings has always fascinated me. Aristocracy simply lends itself to the refinery of sentiments.