For The Last Mistress, French provocateur Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl) joins forces with the equally brazen actress and filmmaker Asia Argento. Together they fashion a period piece with fangs, a bracing exploration of passionate love "mutilated in the battle of two hearts."

"The Last Mistress"

Opens Friday at the Gateway Theater

Grade: B+

For The Last Mistress, French provocateur Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl) joins forces with the equally brazen actress and filmmaker Asia Argento. Together they fashion a period piece with fangs, a bracing exploration of passionate love "mutilated in the battle of two hearts."

Argento plays Vellini, the fiery Spanish lady from whom Ryno (Fu'ad Ait Aattou), a newly repentant libertine in early-19th century Paris, can't escape. As he explains in a conversation with the grandmother of his lovely and wealthy fiancee (Roxane Mesquida), Ryno's history with Vellini goes back a decade and covers all manner of ecstasy, pain and loss.

Despite the link between the illicit couple, which turns out to be stronger than first appearances, Ryno has genuine love for his bride-to-be. Breillat raises in his romantic situation a question about the baser emotions that can betray better instincts. Not surprisingly, lust fills the bill, but less obvious, more heart-wrenching sins also arise.

Both Aattou and Mesquida manage to be more than just a couple of intoxicatingly pretty faces, holding their own against Argento, who bears her primal nature as easily as her breasts. And appropriate to her role, as well as Breillat's approach, the actress literally draws blood.