Sometimes when I go over on to IMDB after a film to see what others have thought of it, I wonder if I’ve actually seen the same movie. With all the fuss about Fifty Shades of Grey (which I still have yet to see), perhaps there was an audience expectation that the Australian film My Mistress would be more of the same – certainly the trailer suggests that the film would be more explicit and, let’s be honest, kinky than it actually is. And yet, if you watch the trailer without getting excited at the bare flesh, it’s easy to see that is not going to be a raunchy effort and is going to be far more reflective and under-stated than that. It appears most online comments missed that fact and, when they watched the film, got disappointed that there wasn’t more…well…handcuffs and whipping.
Harrison Gilbertson stars as 16 year old Charlie as he becomes fixated with a middle-aged French woman who has moved in to a house close to where he lives. By accident, he finds out that she provides “services” of the fetish kind to men in the area, and becomes even more besotted by her, and the two begin a rather strange relationship. But there is more going on here, Charlie’s fixation has occurred during the weeks immediately after the suicide of his father, and the woman, Maggie (Emmanuelle Beart), has suffered her own loss of a different kind.
This isn’t a film about whips and chains, although they appear briefly at various points, but about grief and loss and, in some ways, the need to be noticed and understood during those times. There are very few films that deal with grief in a realistic, non-depressive way. We’re either faced with morbid Haneke-type films or movies where someone dies, a funeral takes place, and everything goes back to normal. But that’s not how life is. In fact, I remember being particularly impressed with, of all things, the second Tobey McGuire Spiderman movie, for the wonderful scene in which Aunt May explains how much she misses her husband even though it had been two years since he died. My Mistress only covers the first month after the death of Charlie’s father, but it does deal with how grief and loss can change the way we would normally act – even if that means getting involved with a woman twice your age and being handcuffed in your boxer shorts to a horse from a fairground ride.
My Mistress is hardly the most fast-paced film in the world, but it is beautifully photographed and the performances by GIlbertson (who also impressed in the horror film “Haunt” last year) and Beart are truly stunning. Australian cinema has often been one of the most fascinating of national cinemas through the last five or six decades, and this movie shows why.