Period films have a knack for focusing a little too heavily on the aesthetics of the period which they are portraying and a little too lightly on the drama that should be taking place, often offering audiences barely more than visual entertainment. The Last Mistress doesn't bend these rules, making for an overwrought piece that doesn't deliver on plot.
Anything with Asia Argento is almost guaranteed to be controversial and this film is certainly no exception. Paired with infamous writer/director Catherine Breilla, well-known for her provocative and sexually explicit work in literature and film, The Last Mistress, set in 19th century France, takes a feral leap into the decade-long love affair of Ryno (Fu'ad Ait Aattou) and his mistress Vellini (Argento) on the eve of his wedding to another woman.
The intricate set and costume design are highlights of the film, but Argento's incredible acting stands above all else. The background of the film is beautiful and each costume forces one to wonder if the budget was used solely on aesthetics, displaying the beauty of the period, rather than on the film as a drama. The androgynously handsome Aattou's part is an excellent surprise in his debut role, as he holds his own against veteran actors. This film provides a great platform to view Argento's acting range and she does not disappoint. The film, however, does.
The story is most flushed out and holds the largest part of its entertainment value when Ryno's future grandmother-in-law asks about his relationship with Vellini and Ryno goes into detail about the events of their tumultuous love affair. The grandmother's questioning of the affairs of her daughter's husband to be is justifiable, but her keen interest in the specific details is a tad absurd.
The Last Mistress, adapted from a novel written by Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, is filled with lust, love and the complications within and between the two. The erotic love affair between Ryno and Vellini is intensely explicit and makes Ryno's marriage to the prudish Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida) seem torturous and boring. Although this film exhibits extreme emotions, it isn't difficult to predict the path the film takes. If one were to take away Argento's exhilarating performance, the film would not keep the audience entertained.