For some mysterious reason, Catherine Breillat's newest film, The Last Mistress, was chosen as the Opening Night Feature for the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival. It's probably the same mysterious reason that caused most critics to praise Breillat's intolerable Fat Girl (2001). It's a reason I'll never understand. I usually love filmmakers who tackle their personal demons in film, but Breillat is different in several ways. She's a nutcase who doesn't admit to her personal demons so much as she tries to analyze them (self-analysis is always a bad idea). She raises the intellectual (or pretentiousness) level of her films rather than wallowing bodily in anything (her films have lots of sex, but it's cold and judgmental). And through it all, her films seem to have a kind of punishing contempt for everyone, her characters, critics and audience included.

However, The Last Mistress is the most enjoyable of the three Breillat films I've seen. It works on a gut level of sexual turmoil that her other films never approach, although I suspect that most of the film's success lies more with star Asia Argento than with Breillat. Argento is the exact opposite of someone like Breillat; she's a corporeal creature, a lithe force of nature. You can't even really call what she does acting. It's more like she explodes onscreen in a shitstorm of lust, blood, and unspeakable emotions made flesh. Her first appearance has her lying invitingly horizontal on a couch, and you envy the pillows. Director and actress have a meeting of minds in only one scene, the most purely Breillat-ian scene in the film: Argento leaps upon the bloody body of her lover, licks the blood out of his gunshot wounds and rises, sneering and screaming with the red, hot liquid dribbling down her chin. It's not exactly the bloody tampon teabag image from Breillat's Anatomy of Hell (2004), but it'll do.