Catherine Breillat is a director fascinated with the intricacies of desire. This does not, however, mean that her work is altogether sexy. Rather, the celebrated French director's esteemed canon - highlighted by 1999's graphic Romance and 2001's stunning Fat Girl - is cerebral even when steamily carnal, her films intellectual exercises that arouse the head as much as the nether regions. Her latest, The Last Mistress, is by and large no different. Based on Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly's taboo 1851 novel, it's a period piece revisitation of her interest in the ambiguous motivations of, and feelings born from, romance, here delivered not with her usual shocking transgressiveness but, instead, with the refinement, grace and sensuousness of a charged costume drama. This 19th-century setting results, on the one hand, in something of a startling change of pace for Breillat, whose cinema has long been infused with a decidedly modern strain of provocation. And yet on the other hand, her preoccupation with love's thorny complications feels right at home in the drawing rooms and boudoirs of indolent 1835 Parisian aristocrats, whose public civility masks private conduct of a much more lascivious sort.