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The Last Mistress

In this period drama, desire -- not convention -- dictates decisions

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In Catherine Breillat's lushly detailed film, adapted from Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly's 19th-century novel, the aristocrats of Paris we meet are riven with feverish sexual desire -- or at least, in the case of the elders, enjoying the show from the sidelines. The penniless "adventurer" Ryno de Marigny (full-lipped newcomer Fu-ad Aît Aattou) is set to marry wealthy, virginal Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida) after his tempestuous 10-year affair with a Spanish divorcee known as La Vellini (Asia Argento). In flashback, we view their love-hate relationship, marked by La Vellini's aggressive sexuality and fierce independence. (She's a character we're invited to read as contemporary.) Thus it's no great mystery how de Marigny's marriage might fare. With little plot and a languid pace, the film's pleasures are in its handsome players (notwithstanding Argento's bursts of overacting), smartly delivered dialogue mulling over the era's changing morality and explicit sex scenes. In French, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Aug. 8. Manor (AH)

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