From the October 11, 2007 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
It’s characteristic of the virtues and limitations of French sexual provocateur Catherine Breillat (Romance, Anatomy of Hell) that they usually derive from the same source—the fearless determination to skirt the borders of camp. In her avowedly free adaptation (2007) of Jules-Amedee Barbey d’Aurevilly’s 1851 novel about the protracted amour fou between a foppish narrator-hero (androgynous Fu’ad Ait Aattou) and his Spanish mistress with a taste for blood (the pouty Asia Argento), both of whom are periodically married to aristocrats, she revels in the kind of overripe French romantic and mythical filigree that the material seems to invite. She may be serious about creating period ambience, but she also can’t resist patterning her heroine after Marlene Dietrich’s Concha in The Devil Is a Woman (even though Argento sometimes suggests Maria Montez in the pleasure she takes in her own company) and using as a location for the hero’s modest country estate what appears to be the same 12th-century fortress in Brittany used in The Vikings(1958) and Jacques Rivette’s Noroit. With Michael Lonsdsale, Roxane Mesquida, and Claude Sarraute. In French with subtitles.