Last Mistress Catherine Breillat

Cannes Film Fest 2007–Catherine Breillat’s “Last Mistress” (“Une Vieille Maitresse”), starring Asia Argento, is her first feature to be shown in competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

The Idea

Breillat: When I first met producer Jean-Francois Lepetit, the idea of making “Old Mistress” had been on my mind for a long time. However, each time we met, I gave him scripts for other films. Until “Anatomy of Hell,” which I have always considered as the end of a necessary cycle, I had to finish before moving on to new pastures. And yet as Jean-Francois says, without that film, I would never have been able to make “Old Mistress.” There is certain distance between them.

The Novel

B: Ten years ago, I underlined the important parts of the novel and dictated the basis of the scenario in four days. I did not want to adapt it; I wanted to make it mine. I took incredible liberties with the storyline. The script had obviously been ripening in my mind over the years, and I modified it again.

Aristocratic Milieu

B: The story could only take place in an aristocratic environment. When struggling to survive, feeding a family and finding a roof for shelter, there is no time for the leisure of romance. Not enough time to experience the pureness. Sentiment can only be expressed in a certain level of comfort, where it is not tainted by the harsh realities of life. The way many great authors of that era expressed strong feeling in such idealistic settings has always fascinated me. Aristocracy simply lends itself to the refinery of sentiments.

Most Accessible Film

B: This is my most accessible film for the general public, and yet I did not betray myself. Contrary to my other films, “Old Mistress” doesn’t break any taboos. I had taken that style as far as it would stretch. It was time to come back to the essentials in life, pleasure, romance and passion. But romance is dark, which was another reason for wanting to make this film, for the romanticism, the burning passion, the terrible suffering, but without subverting the sentiments. The heart of the story portrays an ideal that topples into disaster as soon as it is reached.

The Real Me

B: All my previous films were judged nefarious or scandalous, but they did not represent the real me. I think this film really corresponds to my personality. I’m free at last. It represents the me that does not rise up against the world and its taboos. When I’m at peace, I’m actually terribly romantic.

Like all artists, I laid my foundations in opposition, because when you realize just how much people can hate you for a film, a simple film, it’s pretty frightening. I’m not a terrorist. I don’t hurt anyone, all my actors like me and I’ve never betrayed them.

Cinema and Painting

B: Fiction is about recognizing oneself behind the mask. We all live the same life, experience the same feelings. This is why fiction is so essential to us, as it is in art, because it serves that precise purpose.

Making a film means creating prototypes for the spectators sitting in the dark who will identify completely with them. This time, I chose to make a romantic adaptation.

Films are not realism. The true sense comes over in a painting when the artist does not bother with reality. Reality is everywhere on TV and in newspapers. But art doesn’t have to be realistic.

I think of myself as a painter. I have always invented my own colors and chosen the pigments myself. And I was not going to start using acrylic just because I’d decided to paint a fresco!”

Paintings have often influenced the image and the tonality of my films, like “Romance” for example. To make that film, I turned to the Italians of Florence and Bergame, just like Lorenzo Lotto. I also adore many northern painters, such as Holbein and Durer, who also painted beautiful young masculine men, but with lips and beautiful eyes like girls. I love this paradox.

The Characters

B: What I really enjoy is using literature as everyday language. The dialogues in this film are long and full of deep meanings, but only the emotions count. I made complex sentences which were not meant to be recited, but expressed like unraveling thoughts. They have to constantly convert the text into thought, but without us hearing the commas and full stops! This was, as in my other films, one of the aspects that required attention.

Asia Argento

B: I met Asia Argento ten years ago in Toronto Festival. Despite her very young age, I could already imagine her in the role of La Vellini. She is a character all of her own. And she was magnificent. Although it was quite a job tracking her down, once I found her again, she was as loyal as ever, even when shooting was delayed for a year because of my accident.

Roxanne Mesquida

B: With Roxanne it was love at first sight. Following “Fat Girl” and “Sex Is Comedy,” this is the third time we have worked together. I love her and I wish her staggering beauty and acting talents were more recognized. Roxanne stood up to those who have tried to make her say that I’d manipulated and destroyed her. Her loyalty deeply moves me. She declares that she truly became an actress during the love scene in “Fat Girl,” which was an act of bravery for such a young woman, and she came out of it radiant.

Fu’ad Ait Aattou

B: I immediately knew Fu’ad would be Ryno, if he could act. For the first time, I had found that dazzling beauty, feminine without being effeminate, that I’d always hoped to find. It was love at first sight, what I’d always dreamed of.

Fu’ad’s first attempts were not successful. Despite his beauty, he was not putting enough into it. Beautiful people cannot be forgiven! Exceptionally, I asked him to come back and try again, and this time he was incredible. It happened to be his birthday that day, November 2, which was also author Barbey d’Aurevilly’s birthday.

For his character, I wanted a clearness of the heart. I did not want anything like Merteuil (“Dangerous Liaisons”). This story is about love and passion where the characters are pure. Real life is like Merteuil. With Fu’ad, I feel I’m working with what I call “new born oxygen.” They have the pureness and energy of freshly discovered crystals. They were dedicated to the film. They wear my colors.