Catherine Breillat hitches her wagon to the hottest of European stars, Asia Argento, in a highly entertaining adaptation of Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly's mid-19th-century novel Une vieille maîtresse — once notorious for its treatment of a young libertine's erotic obsession with a homely 36-year-old woman. Breillat's movie opens in 1835, as a pair of self-satisfied aristos discuss the impending wedding of impoverished party boy Ryno de Marigny (Fu'ad Aït Aattou) to well-born, chaste Hermangarde de Polmaron (Roxane Mesquida). Ryno is marrying Hermangarde for her money; innocent of his lengthy involvement with the notorious courtesan Vellini (Argento), she is marrying him for love. The illegitimate daughter of an Italian princess and a Spanish matador, Vellini is introduced in close-up, sprawled on her divan. Argento may fit no one's notion of ugly, but Breillat uses her frank gaze and virtuoso carnality as a means of disrupting the inherently genteel material. The director also turns a particular sexual equation on its head, making her outlaw couple strikingly androgynous. Which one is the femme fatale? Desire knows no boundaries — in the end, she pursues him so that he will pursue her.