Review – My Mistress

My Mistress will be released on DVD on May 5th and is the first title I’ve been able to sample from Film Movement’s newest imprint Omnibus Entertainment. Having just recently rolled out Ram Releasing one might wonder what the focus of Omnibus is:

Omnibus Entertainment brings compelling motion picture features, acclaimed television programming and insightful documentaries from around the world to North American audiences. Dedicated to providing quality content “for all,” Omnibus Entertainment includes a growing catalog of carefully curated titles with appeal that extends beyond the dedicated art house and film festival enthusiast.

So the line of delineation seems to be Film Movement is arthouse, RAM is genre titles fro adults (note their horror offerings like App, Moebius and A Life in Dirty Movies); while the first offering from Omnibus is an erotic drama looking at their site certainly indicated they will bring in varied film styles befitting their name. It’s another exciting development from Film Movement who will also introduce a restoration and repertory imprint called Film Movement Classics; adding to to the legion dedicated to preservation and rereleases.

As for My Mistress, the synopsis is as follows:

It’s a long hot summer for sixteen-year-old Charlie Boyd. He just found out his mother is having an affair with his father’s best friend, but is distracted from his problems by the mysterious woman down the street who has visitors day and night. After a sudden family tragedy Charlie is overwrought with pain. At first feeling hopeless, Charlie soon finds solace in Maggie, the beautiful French stranger, a dominatrix who teaches him the seductively beautiful side of pain, and how it can heal his emotional wounds. What starts as a perverse game quickly turns into a taboo love affair. And as Charlie learns to control his pain he turns that control back onto his mistress.

What occurs in My Mistress is that the tale is mostly segregated telling of the personal dramas of interconnected characters who too rarely consult one another about their issues. While they do spend a good amount of time with one another they are usually struggling with their own baggage and rarely let the other person in. Usually these struggles become a bit redundant until either party lets the other in, which usually takes a bit too long to happen.

Aside from that we are frequently left holding the bag inasmuch as Maggie’s (Emmanuelle Béart) story is more muddled than Charlie’s (Harrison Gilbertson). Charlie deals with an almost instant shock that sends him into a spiral looking for answers, closure and to vent. We know Maggie has a child, she no longer has custody and her struggle is being exploited, but the motivations of the blackmailer are vague.

These subtleties are usually a boon to a film, when more complex emotions or situations are being conveyed. That’s not really the case here. Most of the narrative is pretty transparent and close to the surface such that any obfuscation seems like unnecessary coyness on the part of the film. It doesn’t develop intrigue but encourages detachment. This doesn’t make the film a total failure just one that falls well short of its potential.

Those who would be tuning in for the more lascivious aspects of the narrative also shouldn’t get their hopes up. For a film that ostensibly deals with BDSM it most of the time acts more like a metaphor than a gratuitous selling-point. The scenes where it is featured are tame; the tapping into the emotional pains that draw these characters to such activities is where most of the intrigue lies actually. The subjugation of sexuality to character and conflict are not an issue overall, it only becomes so when the portrait is hazy, and you’re left wanting more out of these two that’s when it becomes problematic.

For their efforts Emmanuelle Béart and Harrison Gilbertson should be commended. They play characters at opposite ends of the spectrum convincingly and seem to share a genuine connection within this film. Their pencil-sketch characterizations are about as fleshed out as the script allows them. Their engaging presence is much of what makes this film as watchable as it ends up being.

My Mistress unfortunately skims the surface and doesn’t have an abundance of complications. One wonders if a tightened edit would’ve benefited this film a bit. Instead of being a middle-of-the-road tale, a bit more risk, detail and definitive resolution may have alienated more, but yielded greater aesthetic results. Instead it serves the function of letting us know Béart is still here and Gilbertson has a promising future and not much else.