Tag Archives: B-

AN AFFAIR OF LOVE

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B-

The original French title of Frederic Fonteyne’s sappily renamed intimate drama was “Une liaison pornographique.” That moniker was far more appropriate, because the whole purpose of the piece is to play upon, and then to undermine, audience expectations concerning a film about an sexual encounter, arranged via personal ad, intended to provide gratification without obligation. (It’s not unlike the hype which attended the initial release of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” which many purchased thinking it would be a risque read and were disappointed to discover was a dense literary masterwork.) Here, the picture deliberately excludes viewers from the first encounters that the couple, played by Nathalie Baye and Sergi Lopez, enjoy in a hotel room–the camera follows them to the door and then lingers out in the hallway as maids roll carts of towels and cleaning supply past–and offers more of the pair’s retrospective discussion of their trysts (via staged interviews) and the conversations that they have in a cafe before proceeding to the room than anything else. Later, the couple will steadfastly refuse to describe the “irregular” forms their relationship took in its early stages, further circumventing any voyeuristic impulse.

Indeed, the film becomes more explicit in its depiction of the “affair” only as the attitude of its participants is transformed from mere lust to friendship and, finally, to something very much like love. And even then, while the scenes of intercourse are certainly presented without apology, they’re also given an air of wry amusement that makes them seem far chaster than the crude cavorting regularly shown in Hollywood pictures. The concentration is always on the development of the relationship rather than on the graphic portrayal of their acts of physical intimacy. And the ages of the couple–they both look about forty, with the woman the older of the two–is unusual as well; ordinarily either they would be much younger, or an older man would be paired with a (much) younger female.

All of which is commendable, of course; but the dry, detachedly observant perspective (along with the intercut interview sequences) tends to give “An Affair of Love” the feeling more of a treatise than a story about real people. This fact is accentuated by the rather pretentious refusal to name the lead characters, who are simply referred to as “He” and “She,” as though they were exemplars rather than individuals. It’s also reflected in the dialogue, which makes the two–especially the female representative–so incessantly reflective and willing to discourse upon their attitudes that they become spokespersons for particular gender perspectives more than authentic personalities. Almost inevitably, moreover, since the picture is quintessentially French in its coolness and rather grim presumptions, the narrative leads to a painful decision as to whether to take the relationship the final step to marriage. The outcome is affected by a chance encounter involving an elderly man who collapses in the hallway outside the two’s hotel room and his estranged wife, which necessarily compels the couple (and, by extension, us) to wonder about the possibility of real happiness through a permanent commitment. And since, as noted, this is a serious French film, with all that implies, the denouement is not all that surprising.

But even though Fonteyne’s film is at times contrived and is probably too deliberately cold, it does occasionally break through emotionally: some of the lovers’ offhanded remarks, both to one another and in their later interviews, show real flashes of personality, and even an incidental character, like the grim, silent desk clerk who seems initially disapproving of the couple’s obvious intentions but gradually grows accustomed to their visits, can give the piece a periodic shot of amusement. “An Affair of Love” doesn’t move the viewer as it might, but neither does it descend to the level of the prurient or the mawkish. While a bit too rarefied for its own ultimate good, it remains an intriguing attempt to confound audience expectations and comment seriously on the differences between men and women. That’s something that’s rare in today’s movies, and it should be applauded even when the attempt isn’t perfectly realized.

THE FIVE SENSES

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B-

Jeremy Podeswa’s sophomore feature is a very serious, decidedly
literary ensemble film about the struggles of a group of
Toronto citizens to achieve human contact over a three-day
period during which a young girl is missing, a presumed
victim of foul play. One might expect a story which deals,
even peripherally,
with a child’s disappearance to take on a mawkish, TV-movie-of-
the-week tone, but Podeswa avoids that. Instead he uses the
ever-present mystery of the tyke’s absence to create a pervasive
mood of uncertainty and potential doom, against which he
presents a cleverly crafted piece about the ways in which
five major characters, each with a trait linked to one of the
five senses, seek to build relationships, however flawed
they might be. The result is an intriguing little picture
which happily shuns overt sentimentality but in the process
becomes a mite too too cerebral and affected for its own good.

Among the main figures are a masseuse named Ruth (Gabrielle
Rose) who, in spite of her occupation, can’t connect with her
disaffected drop-out adolescent daughter Rachel (Nadia Litz).
When Anna (Molly Parker) comes in for a treatment, Rachel takes
the woman’s tag-along kid into a nearby park, but loses the
girl when she’s distracted by a couple’s nearby lovemaking. As
the search for the youngster accelerates, Ruth reaches out
to show her empathy with Anna, while Rachel falls in with a
punkish fellow with voyeuristic tendencies (Brendan Fletcher).
Meanwhile a neighbor woman, Rona (Mary-Louise Parker), a baker
whose cakes are gorgeous to look at but inedible (she lacks a
sense of taste, you see) finds herself visited by a gregarious
Italian chef (Marco Leonardi) while commiserating with her
best friend, gay house-cleaner Robert (Daniel MacIvor), who’s
systematically meeting with all his old lovers in the belief
that he can sniff out whether any are still enamored of him.
And, finally, there’s a nearby optometrist (Philippe Volter)
whose encroaching deafness leads him to seek solace in the arms
of Gail (Pascale Bussieres). Thus all the senses are covered,
some in multiple ways, by the complex, intersecting storyline;
the resolution suggests that people can escape their
isolation even in difficult circumstances, and imperfectly.

Podeswa keeps his intricate scheme clear for the viewer, and
gets mostly solid performances from his ensemble cast. There’s
some unevenness from one story strand to another, of course
(the cook without taste seems a rather heavy-handed conceit,
for example, and the entire episode centering on the optometrist
has a draggy feel), and he doesn’t entirely avoid a feeling
of artificiality and pretension in the telling, largely as a
result of a very deliberate, sometimes heavy-handed directorial
style. Moreover, in dealing with so many characters at once
and continuously switching focus from one to another, Podeswa
fails to present any of them as completely rounded individuals.

In the final analysis, despite one’s appreciation for the
writer-director’s avoidance of the simplistically maudlin
tone such a story might have encouraged and considerable
admiration for his serious intent, it’s Podeswa’s rather
bookish dedication to constructing a layered but not very
deeply textured plot, along with his inability to create fully
realized characters, that lessens his picture’s impact.
Curiously, for a film whose title emphasizes the corporeal
powers, “The Five Senses” ultimately proves too cooly
detached, rarified
and calculated to have a strong emotional impact. It
succeeds in engaging the mind, but never really touches the
heart.