The Last Mistress (Breillat, 2008)

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The Duchess of Langeais is a tough act to follow. After reveling whole-heartedly in Rivette’s brilliantly staged rendering of forlorn love turned full-blown tragedy, I’m not surprised Catherine Breillat’s well-crafted The Last Mistress feels like small potatoes comparatively. Yes, both films use vastly different techniques and pacing to purvey their respective visions, but each can be linked by an obsession with past romantic entanglements, understanding, fantasizing, and re-living them. Whereas Rivette directly allows the viewer to grasp the minutia of the evolving characters by marking his narrative almost completely in flashback, making the book-ended present seem far more engaging and fateful, Breillat only uses flashback sparingly in one elongated montage of memory and regret, forcing her characters into predictable predicaments for most of the second half. Argento’s bold performance as the titular Vellini only heightens her need to be front and center, but instead she’s mostly defined as a calculating object offscreen. The inevitable finale is in turn disappointing, leaving little to ponder after the final credits. With The Last Mistress, the pleasures merely lie on the surface, in the texture of skin and blood, while Rivette delves deeper into his character’s uncertainties and shortcomings.

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