When she suffered a cerebral haemorrhage while making her latest film, French director Catherine Breillat convinced her producer she would be all right - as long as she sat down. Nancy Tartaglione-Vialatte reports.

She may be loved by international arthouse audiences, but French director Catherine Breillat is not beloved at home.

Her films - routinely described as 'challenging' - including Romance, Fat Girl, Sex Is Comedy and Anatomy Of Hell were not warmly received by French audiences. And Breillat is now ready for a change.

'I am controversial in my own country,' she admits. 'In other countries it's an image which can be glamorous, but in your own country you get beaten down. If I didn't have the foreign audience, I wouldn't have survived. But I hope I'll still have an audience now I've done a more accessible film.'

That film is the costume drama An Old Mistress (Une Vieille Maitresse) which screened in Competition at Cannes in May. Based on the 1851 novel by Jules-Amedee Barbey d'Aurevilly, it is a story of love, lust and betrayal among 1850s Parisian society, starring Asia Argento and newcomer Fu'ad Ait Aattou.

'I wanted to do a cinematographically ambitious film which would also work on a popular level,' Breillat explains.

The $13.6m (EUR10m) An Old Mistress shot for eight weeks in Brittany and at France's National Archives, which Breillat transformed into her own mini-studio. But the shoot was not without its difficulties. Breillat suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and was unable to be insured for the film. However, producer Jean-Francois Lepetit of Flach Film put his faith in his experienced director.

'He took a big risk,' Breillat recalls. But she points out: 'After all, directing is just about the only work you do from a chair.'

Ever the provocateur, Breillat's next film is based on her own book, Bad Love, which she says she wrote for supermodel Naomi Campbell; she wants Campbell to star.