Friday, April 22, 2016

Film Review: An Affair Of Love

"An Affair Of Love"  **** (out of ****)

What do you think of when you hear the word affair? Adultery? Is it a dirty word? Does it imply sex? What do you make of the title, an affair of love?

For a movie with the word "affair" and "love" in it, plus, a more than suggestive poster, "An Affair Of Love" (2000) is not about adultery or sex. To be honest, it may not even be about love either.

Here is movie about men and women, dating, dating rules, desires and our inability to communicate with one another especially regarding matters of intimacy and sex.

"An Affair of Love", a French film directed by Frederic Fonteyne, was released in that most horrid of movie years - 2000. When I initially saw it back then I declared it one of the best movies of the year and placed it in the number eight spot of my top ten list that year. I hadn't seen the movie since that time. When I saw "An Affair of Love" a second time I wasn't as emotionally struck by it. It was no longer a four star movie to me. Perhaps three stars would be more fitting. I attributed this change in opinion to my age. Back in 2000 I was 17 years ago. A movie like "An Affair Of Love" seemed so mature to me. So adult. But I wasn't prepared to dismiss this movie. Was "An Affair Of Love" a movie worthy of my initial opinion? Did it deserve to be on my top ten list? I have watched "An Affair Of Love" two more times. It still baffles me.

The movie begins with a man and woman being interviewed separately about a relationship they had between each other years ago. The woman placed an ad on a dating website to meet a man for a weekly sexual encounter regarding a fantasy she has always wanted to realize. Her previous partners were put off by the idea of her fantasy and so it remained only a fantasy. Soon the woman finds herself single and wonders perhaps now would be the time for her to explore her desires.

The woman is known only as She (Nathalie Baye). The man is He (Sergi Lopez). They are both middle-aged and attractive. She seems very confident and comfortable in her skin. He comes across as shy and perhaps the more romantic of the two. Though both recall each other fondly.

What is immediately interesting about "An Affair Of Love" is the different memories the two have when discussing the same encounter. For example she says she placed her ad on a website. He says he answered her ad in a pornographic magazine, which he has kept (in plastic) as a souvenir. He says he responded to her ad by sending her a letter with his photo. She says they never exchanged photos and did not know what each other looked like until they met in person. What is the cause for these different memories? Do we simply remember what we want to remember? Do we try to rearrangement our memories so they fit into a better narrative? Is it a gender issue? Do men and women remember events differently?

This is interesting because as we watch the movie and see events play out the audience must ask themselves, from whose perspective are we seeing this? "An Affair Of Love" seems to have a neutral position. We hear the characters speak in voice-over recalling memories of various encounters only to see images which don't correlate. When speaking of a particular sexual encounter between the two She remembers it being a perfect experience. She says it was the first time she experienced a simultaneous orgasm with a partner. We don't hear his thoughts on this encounter however what we see is different. He complains that this has never happened to him before. She tells him not to worry. She still enjoyed herself. Again, whose memories are we seeing and why does She have a different memory?

Because we are not seeing one particular character's view of events "An Affair Of Love" has an impersonal feel. We never truly get to know these characters. We never even hear them address one another by their names. They have a no names agreement. We understand her motivates for placing the ad but what was his motive for answering it?

This may make it difficult for some to become emotionally involved in the movie. Personally I enjoy watching movies about characters I am able to relate to. Situations I can relate to. "An Affair Of Love" may be a bit too challenging. Then I thought it seems rather fitting for a movie about lack of communication. Why should the audience know more about these people when the characters don't know each other. The audience is in a sense sharing in the impersonal experience as well.

As such we become voyeurs yet we do not see all. She and He meet at a local bar and then proceed to a nearby hotel. The audience never sees the couple in the hotel room as they engage in her fantasy. On the rare occasion the audience is permitted to see what goes on in the hotel room the fantasy is not being explored.  

Some may want to know what is the secret fantasy of She. It is never revealed but the details of the fantasy are not important. The fantasy is, in Hitchcockian terms, the MacGuffin of the story, something of no interest to the audience only the characters. Secret fantasies are not the point of the movie. "An Affair Of Love" is much more interested in telling us a story suggesting the fear of rejection dictates our decision making process. An inability to "read" people, due to lack of communication, causes us to make the "wrong" decisions. When it comes to love people are afraid to "put themselves out there".

The concept of two people meeting for a weekly sexual encounter may have audiences think of a movie like "Last Tango In Paris" (1972). That movie was about a grieving process and loneliness. The characters in "An Affair Of Love" are a different kind of lonely and one could argue they are not even looking for love because they realize what that would imply, the vulnerability required. Better to engage in a no names asked purely sexual affair.

I'm no longer sure of how great "An Affair Of Love" may be however this is a movie deserving of multiple viewings. Something new will be revealed to you with each viewing, a gesture, a glance which you hadn't noticed before. This is a smart movie with something to say. Perhaps the older we become the more the movie will say to us.