An Affair of Love
review by Elias Savada, 18 August 2000

Belgian director Frédéric Fonteyne’s second feature (based on a screenplay by invariable collaborator, novelist/playwright/director Philippe Blasband) is a short but ultimately tedious affair. Even the title is immemorial, destined to be as misremembered as the pronouns (Her and Him) that share the anonymous lead roles. Arriving on U.S. shores a year after its European premiere as Une liaison pornographique/A Pornographic Affair, distributor Fine Line Features opted for a blander designation for this decidedly non-graphic role-playing fantasy. But changing from one confusing moniker to another? Zut alors!

Whatever lightness there is in the title, this Gallic gabfest is heavy on words. Printed ones (personal ads in a porno magazine) lead to initially nervous spoken others by two strangers (Nathalie Baye and Sergi Lopez) in search of sexual fantasy. The uneventful story unfolds as a series of flashbacks during separate interviews with each of the principals by an unknown documentarian (Jacques Viala) for unidentified reasons. The intimate relationship develops, deepens, weakens, and disintegrates, mostly around a bistro table across from the Parisian hotel where the couple copulate every few days. Whatever Olympic ecstasies they experience are hidden behind closed doors or under rumpled sheets; everything they’re into is mostly inferred through conversation (She’s into hairy Spaniards). Their flights of carnal fancy are as undefined as the clandestine Venus Flytrap maneuver espoused on TV’s L.A. Law. After months of these guilt-free explorations, all I could wonder was: don’t these people have jobs? They might not have lives, but surely they have to work. How do they get off having so much free time to chat it up, get it on, and sip a glass wine (Her) or dunk a sugar cube in cognac (Him)?

Fonteyne experiments with colors -- garish red hotel hallways and a bright blue bedroom -- but fails to titillate any hue-filled excitement. The camerawork by Virginie Saint-Martin is pedantic except for some darken, deserted city streets highlighted with a blur of streetlights. Or an intoxicating restaurant scene when the couple is encircled, their dinner table seemingly a wagon train surrounded by Indians. The ambient sound of other patrons is muted so we hear just the couple. But they quickly head back to the hotel for a hanky-panky nightcap and the same old boring, prurient-free, chit-chat.

Now, chat-em-ups can be just as exciting as shoot-em-ups. My Dinner with André and the Spalding Gray’s monologues (Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box) are terrifically entertaining. An Affair of Love isn’t.

The only intriguing characters are the short-lived Mr. Lignaux (Paul Pavel), a confused old man who collapses outside their bedroom. Estranged from his wife ("I’ve been killing her for forty years."), he’s a devout philanderer who has strayed through a succession of sluts. Hospitalized, his unhappy wife (Sylvie Van den Elsen) is notified against his wishes and both end up worse off for the involvement of Him and Her in their lives.

I know it shouldn’t be, but one obstacle is the film’s in French and the subtitles endless. If you still need a good French "flique," go see Patrice Leconte’s Girl on the Bridge, an unusual and absorbing love story. Another problem with An Affair of Love is that the performances by Baye and Lopez are stronger than the under-stuffed material. A great actress such as the three-time César winner Baye (The Return of Martin Guerre) and the strong presence of Lopez aren’t enough to give this European entry more than a passing glance by American audiences. We have no sympathies, no brass ring to clasp as they go round their merry way. Their histories are empty pages, a novel with no heart. They don’t exchanges names, phone numbers, or addresses. Oddly they mention in their interviews that their relationship evolved from emails (after the magazine ad, before the physical contact), so why not use screen names to identify one another? Were their Internet names "Him01" and "Her02?" At the least you would think they’d have some pet designations for each other:  Mickey and Minnie, perhaps, in deference to EuroDisney? Ultimately the film gets as lost as "She" does during one of her recollections, her motion slowing and the focus blurring. And you snoozing.

Directed by:
Frédéric Fonteyne

Nathalie Baye
Sergi Lopez
Paul Pavel
Sylvie Van den Elsen
Jacques Viala

Written by:
Philippe Blasband




  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.