Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Stephen Lance
Stars: Emmanuelle Beart, Harrison Gilbertson, Rachael Blake, Socratis Otto.
If you thought that Stanley Kubrick’s depiction of a high class orgy in Eyes Wide Shut was a bit silly, wait until you get a glimpse into the world of an S&M and B&D dominatrix as depicted in this low budget film from first time feature film director Stephen Lance.
My Mistress is a semi-autobiographical coming of age tale about Charlie Boyd, an alienated teenage boy grieving over the suicide of his father, who begins a dangerous obsession with a bondage dominatrix who lives nearby and who has her own personal demons to deal with. Lance, who cut his teeth on commercials and music videos, co-wrote the film with Gerald Lee (who wrote Sweetie for Jane Campion) and Cory Taylor, who co-wrote his short film Yolk.
My Mistress stars rising young Australian actor Harrison Gilbertson (Beneath Hill 60, Conspiracy 365, etc) as Charlie, who comes home one afternoon to find his father hanging from the roof of the family garage. He blames his cold and alcoholic mother (Rachael Blake, from Lantana, etc) and her infidelity for the tragedy, which puts a distance between the two. Plagued by grief and pain, Charlie drifts into a sadomasochistic relationship with dominatrix Maggie (played by French actress Emmanuelle Beart). “I make them forget their private pain,” she says of her various clients. At first he signs on as her gardener, but soon the pair are mixing it up in her red bondage room.
But rather than an erotic drama along the lines of Lady Chatterley’s Lover this is more of a precursor to the salacious 50 Shades Of Grey, which will hit cinemas next year. My Mistress is also a dark tale of obsession and the loss of innocence and troubled mother/son relationships. The couple of sex scenes are handled with restraint, and there is nothing particularly titillating, erotic or graphic about them. There are a couple of scenes that are even laughable. But Gilbertson and Beart do form a palpable chemistry that brings a touch of sexual frisson to their shared scenes.
Gilbertson brings a rebellious, James Dean quality to his performance as the lonely teen, and he manages to capture the turbulent emotions, angst and grief that Charlie is experiencing. He also manages to project a vulnerability. Gilbertson has played the troubled teen before (see Accidents Happen with Geena Davis, for example), but this is arguably his most challenging and daring role yet, and it marks something of a transition from teen roles to more adult fare. Beart is a fixture of French dramas like A Heart In Winter, Manon Des Sources, etc, and she brings an exotic beauty and hint of mystery to her role. Blake brings a cold, bitter and brittle quality and an emotional fragility to her performance as Charlie’s mother.
The film is largely a three hander, although Socratis Otto rounds out the small cast as the mysterious man in Maggie’s life, but it is a woefully underwritten and enigmatic part that doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression on the drama.
Much of the drama takes place in Maggie’s lavish, sprawling house and garden, which has been beautifully shot by veteran cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson (Shine, Under The Tuscan Sun, etc), who gives the material a glossy surface and the feel of European cinema.
But ultimately My Mistress is a little disappointing and uneven in its tone, and the final resolution is anticlimactic. It would have been a much stronger film if more time had been spent on developing the characters and fleshing them out more, and adding some emotional tension to some of the more dramatic moments.