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On the Circuit: The Last Mistress

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On the Circuit: The Last Mistress

Devoid of shock murders, genital close-ups or bodily discharges (save one abortion scene that still pales in comparison to the one in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), The Last Mistress, Catherine Breillat’s first period picture, is less scandalous than any of her recent films, but it proves to be just as engaged with the impossibility of heterosexual relations and the vagaries of desire.

Based on a then-sensational 19th century novel by Jules Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly, the milieu is one of elegantly costumed French aristocracy whose veneer of high morals barely conceals a sexual economy of infidelity and hypocrisy. While bodice-ripping historical romances are nothing new, Breillat brings her indelible mix of braininess and rawness; mixing verbal and physical sexual exchanges, she aims both high and low where other films settle for a tastefully soft-core middle.

The film begins and ends with a middle-aged couple (Yolande Moreau and the ever-delightful Michael Lonsdale) who tolerate each other chiefly through fancy dinners and gossip, effectively framing the romantic intrigues recounted in between within a larger social context. That one item of gossip involves the husband’s Spanish mistress adds an intriguing layer of openness to the proceedings, presenting morality as a tool more strategically deployed than consistently upheld. Indeed, the wife is more concerned that the mistress in question is also involved with Ryno de Marigny (newcomer Fu’ad Ait Aattou) the fiancé of her virginal niece (Roxanne Mesquida). The niece’s grandmother, the Marquise de Flers (Claude Sarraute), summons the fiancé to give a full account of his dalliances with the lady of ill repute, to which he offers his epic tale of sexual power plays, infidelity and death.

Undoubtedly, the driving force of these proceedings is Asia Argento as Vellini, a bastard Spanish-French maiden turned reputable by wedding an aged English fop, but whose essential wildness remains untamed. Argento, whose wordless gaze is enough to inspire hours of illicit thoughts, doesn’t have to do much to convey wantonness; her mere appearance at an opera in a lacy vermilion dress or her Marlene Dietrich-style performance of the English bar tune “Yes Sir” posits her as a woman centuries ahead of her time. Ryno and Vellini greet each other with looks of lustful reproachment, leading him to deep throat her within plain sight of her husband. When Ryno is injured in the subsequent duel, Vellini leaps upon his sickbed to lick his wounds. They run off to Tunisia, carrying with them the hopes of being one of the few sexually and socially liberated couples of the pre-Victorian era. But disaster befalls them in their attempts to start a life and family together, leading to a raw, al fresco sex scene of stark mournfulness. By this point the film establishes emotional stakes that outstrip your run-of-the-mill costume romp.

Ryno relays all of this to the Marquise with full candor and, pleased to find someone whose experiences stretch beyond the safe confines of respectable mediocrity, she grants him her granddaughter’s hand with the ironic intention that he can find true love through the socially acceptable role of a dutiful husband. (It’s as if the Marquise was simultaneously rewarding and forgiving Ryno for his exploits.) It’s surprising that the Marquise, in all her wisdom, would believe Ryno’s assurances that Vellini is out of his life for good, for she soon turns up, stalking the young man as he begins a new life with his already-pregnant wife at a remote seaside estate.

The Last Mistress fascinatingly juggles perspectives: it is as much about outsiders’ judgmental understanding and accounting of the intimate behavior of others as it is about the deep-rooted relevance for the first-hand participants of a sexual relationship. The film ends with a simultaneous tragedy and triumph, as the connection between the now-married Ryno and his unrelenting mistress becomes socially normalized, both for them and for everyone in touch with them. True love in both its conventional and radical manifestations cancel each other out in an uneasy cease-fire. Perhaps the most provocative aspect of these pitiable mortals’ scandalous quest for romance is that it ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker based in New York City. He has written for Cinema-Scope, The Chicago Reader, Senses of Cinema and Slant. His website is www.alsolikelife.com.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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