TBT: The Last Mistress (2007)

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The Last Mistress (2007) is based on the 1851 novel Une vieille maîtresse by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, and the film, directed by Catherine Breillat, deals with an intense love affair between an older woman and a younger man, one a courtesan and the other dissolute and relatively aimless without much of anything going on under his pretty exterior (so, a lot like Cheri on the surface). What ends up driving the plot is La Vellini, the titular mistress, is a fucking nutbar. Like, full-on “don’t stick your dick in crazy” kind of crazy. Which, of course, our hero, Ryno, immediately does. Repeatedly. And to make matters weirder, the whole story is relayed by Ryno at the prompting of his future bride’s grandmother, who appears to be entertained by the fact that her soon-to-be grandson-in-law is in an abusive relationship with a crazy Spanish courtesan.

That’s my kind of grandma.

The film stars Asia Argento as La Vellini (English-language audiences will probably know her best as another crazy mistress, Madame du Barry, in Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette).

The little heart spit curl. <3

And the exceedingly pretty Fu’ad Aït Aattou as Ryno.

Ryno’s beautiful, but neglected young wife, Hermangarde, is played by Roxane Mesquida, who did as stint in the U.S. series Gossip Girl in 2011-2012.

The movie is set in the 1830s, and the costumes were designed by Anaïs Romand, whose noteworthy costume flicks include Diary of a Chambermaid (2015) and Les enfants du siècle (1999). There’s a lot of artistic license taken with La Vellini’s outfits, but the rest of the cast is dressed in lovely Romantic gowns and suits.

At one point, La Vellini appears in what looks like a straight-up modern ballgown.

Which, within the context of the film, puts her in glaring contrast to the more mainstream characters.

This outfit was clearly inspired by Goya’s La Maja Vestida.

A.K.A. The Clothed Maja (c. 1815). You know it makes my little art historian heart flutter when I see costumes that were clearly based on portraits.

This outfit worn by La Vellini reminded me a lot of the portrait of the Turkish girl by Konstantin Makovsky, though there are dozens of other 19th-century portraits in this same vein.

Turk by Konstantin Makovsky, c.1860.

Another worthy mention is Léa Seydoux, who plays La Vellini’s gorgeous housekeeper/lover, Oliva. She only has two or three appearances in the film but she looks like she stepped out of a Romantic-era portrait.

The character that I was surprised to find I liked the best was Hermangarde. She’s clearly been chosen for Ryno based on her fortune and beauty, but what lies underneath that flawless exterior is a skeleton made entirely of steel, I’m pretty sure. Sadly, the movie isn’t about her, so we just get glimpses of her inner strength before it’s right back to her husband shagging his mistress.

That is the face of a woman who is a whole lot more than Ryno bargained for.

Hermangarde’s got that withering look of contempt down pat. She is my everything.

#Legit

 

Have you seen The Last Mistress? Let’s discuss it in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

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Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

7 Responses

  1. MoHub

    Interesting that the title is translated as The Last Mistress instead of the literal and more accurate An Old Mistress.

    Reply
  2. Susan Snare

    That.. garment she’s wearing to needlepoint. Help me here. To me it looks more like something worn at Studio 54 in 1976. Am I missing something that makes it historically accurate? Or is her character so on point she gets a pass?

    Reply
  3. Kendra

    I can’t believe you made it through this movie! I watched about 10 minutes before wanting to stick a fork in my eye!

    Reply
  4. Liutgard

    I’m just happy with the name Hermengarde- Hermengarde/Ermengarde is one of my favorite old names (Ermengarde is Frankish- earliest I’ve seen it is 6th c), and I really wish it would come into use again!

    Reply
    • lady Hermina De Pagan

      I also love Hermengarde as a name. I almost used it as my SCA name but I was having a hard time finding documentation for it. So I switched to Hermina, which everyone mispronounces as Hermione.

      Reply
      • Liutgard

        You can document it if you drop the H, and then just use it with the H if you like. Mine is Liutgard, but in period it could be spelled Luitgard, Lutgarde, Hlutgarde, or any and many such combination. (I just happened to like Liutgard best.) I was also looking at Liutberga, until my sweetie, who works in a middle school, asked me if I wanted to be called Lootburger. Uh, no. I also really like Helissande, but I know people would shorten it to Helly, and I hate diminutives.

        Hermina is nice! Do you pronounce the H?

        Reply

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