Monday, 11 April 2011

The Devil is A Woman & The Last Mistress

Antonio is captivated by Concha
Ryno is obsessed with Vellini

Many of you I am sure will have seen the fantastic The Devil is a Woman (1935) by Josef Von Sternberg, but I wanted to draw people's attention to what I see as a contemporary version of the film; The Last Mistress (2007). This is something of a long winded 'review' but I did my thesis on Asia Argento so I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to her.

Both Catherine Breillat and Asia Argento are known for their transgressive and confrontational approach to their work and in Une Vieille Maîtresse (2007) they live up to their contentious reputations. Nominated for the Palme D’or in 2007, this is a passionate and decadent tale of morality, lust and subversive sexuality. Renamed The Last Mistress instead of the literal translation of The Old Mistress for a wider audience consumption. This is a beautifully shot film that features a captivating performance by Italian actress and director, Asia Argento. Argento plays Vellini an outsider in the restrictive aristocrat 19th century Parisian society.

Argento takes the lead role as Vellini, an ageing Spaniard courtesan living in 19th Century Paris; she is the illegitimate daughter of an Italian princess and a Spanish bullfighter. The film centres on the tumultuous ten year affair between Vellini and the aristocrat Ryo de Marigny, played by Fu’ad Ait Aattou. Vellini is an outsider who flaunts her aggressive sexuality, where as Ryo is a dandy, passive, and effeminate social climber.

A daughter is born through their love affair. However the affair begins to dissipate when Ryo marries the wealthy young Hermangarde, who is the antithesis of Vellini with her cool blonde chaste demeanour. Vellini is seen as a disruptive force by the Parisian community, whose women are subservient towards men, where as Vellini is provocative and domineering. Alas, Ryo cannot keep away from Vellini and her uninhibited sexuality, going so far as to challenging Vellini’s seasoned husband to a dual.      

In one particular stand out scene Vellini is at a costume party and is questioned about her costume choice; 'Are you a she devil?' to which she replies 'No, I'm the devil himself, I hate anything feminine.'                       

Vellini the devil
This is a sumptuous and decadent film that is not for the faint hearted viewer, there are a lot of gratuitous sex scenes, but if you are accustomed to the works of Argento and Breillat you will most likely enjoy it. This is Josef Von Sternberg’s The Devil is a Woman for a contemporary audience; akin to Marlene’s character Concha in The Devil is a Woman, Vellini will bring about the destruction of the men who fall for her. 



Indeed, Catherine Breillat was inspired by Marlene Dietrich’s overtly stylised costumes and hairstyles for Vellini.  Certainly, costume designer Anaïs Romand creations add to the opulence and dichotomy of the film. Hermangarde is a virginal vision in white lace, where as Vellini dons jewel coloured silk and Spanish combs that point to her position as a transgressor and place her outside of the societal norms. 

Hermangarde - the virgin

Vellini - the devil

This is a well styled and beautifully shot film, that depicts the kind of aggressive masculine sexuality that Marlene would be proud of. It features a fabulous supporting cast including Yolande Moreau, Amira Casar, Roxanne Mesquida.



  1. What a fascinating review, I feel so inspired to watch both these films!!
    From Carys of La Ville Inconnue

  2. I am terribly intrigued by The Last Mistress now. Nice review (-:

  3. Thank you Carys & Feeona! Let me know what you girls think of the film(s) if you get round to watching them x

  4. What a brilliant post! Thank you, I haven't seen this version and definitely will now! The styling looks amazing. x

  5. I am glad you liked it, yes the costumes are amazing keep wanting to wear black lace now x