Screams are muffled as whips crack in suburban dungeons across this country. My Mistress gives you the chance to look into one such space, first furtively through the windows, then by walking in through the back door. In fact, My Mistress may leave you wondering why nobody ever locks their door in director Stephen Lance’s suburbia?
The wide eyes of troubled, sixteen-year-old protagonist Charlie (Harrison Gilbertson), make a good - if slightly problematic - vehicle for the uninitiated to explore what may well be a foreign universe. That said; don’t expect a paint-by-numbers introduction to BDSM. At first you know as little as Charlie does about the mysterious, French Maggie (Emmanuelle Beart). However you’re given plenty of time to ascertain that she’s sexy, from the tips of her messy blonde up do, all the way down her curvaceous body to the clip-clopping heels of her Christian Louboutin shoes.
Yes, the plot moves slowly, at times with little dialogue, building tension in the style of other laconic Aussie films like Lantana (2001). While it doesn’t reach those heights, you will find Lantana’s Rachael Black playing Charlie’s mother Kate. Kate is a somewhat dysfunctional alcoholic reeling from the (quite graphic) death of her husband through suicide, and her son Charlie’s palpable anger.
Mostly My Mistress is a film about relationships and the resulting pain that we cause each other. It employs BDSM to show how, for some, actual physical pain can be a transformative way of dealing with life’s curve balls. It can also be hot, in and of itself, but the film leaves that side of BDSM for another movie. By juxtaposing scenes from a dungeon against scenes where the characters deal with issues that might be more familiar to the audience – alcoholism, grief, family dysfunction and other costly mistakes – Lance shows that pain delivered in a House of Harlot ensemble with a riding crop might well be preferable to the plethora of tiny emotional paper cuts we leave upon each other every day.
For audience members more versed in fetishism, you can expect to find a lot to adore - puppy play, voyeurism, shoe fetishes, latex, sensory deprivation, corsetry, caning and whip cracking all feature. Maggie’s costumes have clearly been carefully thought out, with costume designer Angus Strathie (Moulin Rouge, Strictly Ballroom), working closely with the high-end fetish fashion industry.
For me, the poignant moments were perhaps not quite where the director intended. My heart skipped a beat as Charlie asked Maggie: “Am I going to be one of them when I am older?” He’s referring to Maggie’s paying clientele who, to a sixteen-year-old boy trying to be a dominatrix’s lover, must look pretty pathetic at times. My guess is probably, but you’d have to ask the director. My Mistress is said to be semi-autobiographical; and as this film points out, you never quite know what’s happening in your next-door neighbour’s bedroom...
In Australian cinemas nationally November 6, 2014. Distributed in Australia by Transmission Films.