Sometimes a film is as good as its cast. While a group of bad actors will never bring success, an exceptional performer can make a solid film into a standout. This is the case with "The Last Mistress" is an adaptation of a 19th-century novel in which the French well-to-do amuses itself by gossiping about the latest scandal. The milieu is ripe for social commentary, while the scandal in this film is ready-made for melodrama. Yet director Catherine Breillat, who has fixed a critical eye upon the politics of female sexuality in many films, is too interested in her characters to deliver just a series of thrills. Here Breillat directs one of the most thrilling actresses working today, and the latter makes this calculated study into a tale brimming with passion and sorrow.
Asia Argento is the mistress in question, and imagining the film without her is like picturing a non-Bardem No Country, or There Will Be Blood with Day-Lewis still on leave. For these two performers, method acting is not an aim; it's as standard to the job as are the words "Action" and "Cut". Argento, who should be nominated by the Academy this year if justice is to be served, brings the same level of focus and verity to her challenging role. The French-language film "The Last Mistress", which will be in limited release and available On Demand on Friday, June 27, seems made for Argento, yet she singlehandedly achieves the film's ambitions.
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