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A Fleshed-Out Affair

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 6, 2000


    An Affair of Love Nathalie Baye and Sergi Lopez in "An Affair of Love." (Fine Line Features)
In "An Affair of Love," a middle-aged woman (Nathalie Baye), never named, advertises for a sexual partner. She's single, she's healthy and this is her first attempt to empower herself in the erotic department. Why not act out one of her fantasies? A man (Sergi Lopez), similarly unidentified and also in his middle years, responds to the ad.

Evidently, he has similar ambitions.

They meet at a cafe, anxious, a little embarrassed. After a drink and more chatter, they file purposefully toward the appointed hotel room.

They have worked out their agreement with one eye perhaps on the movie "Last Tango in Paris." They will not disclose their names, addresses or professions. They will simply meet at the same cafe (cue the song "Me and Mrs. Jones"), sip coffee or cordials, then skip to l'hotel and indulge in the glorious, unmentionable act that has drawn them together.

There are to be no complications. If there are, this thing is over.

Et voila, une affaire sexuelle. And for filmmaker Frederic Fonteyne, a quandary. How do you make a straightforward, honest movie about the pursuit of sexual pleasure, thwart nervous laughter from the audience and avoid pat resolutions? Given the creative difficulties lurking under the sheets, I'd say this movie does tremendously well.

"Affair of Love" ignores most of the Hollywood-style elbow-jabbing into the audience's midriff, so that even Aunt Gertrude gets it. (Not that Gertie would be watching. Although it might do her a world of good.)

Instead, this movie's only superficially about sex. It's really about an understanding. Monsieur et mademoiselle could have been chess players who come daily to a park, play the game and leave without a word about each other's particulars.

So it was especially gratifying to me to see that, once this couple heads to their hotel room, the door is shut between them and us. Sorry: Do Not Disturb.

In fact, this is possibly one of the most prudish movies about sex to ever see the light of day through a hotel room window. And here's another smart thing about the movie: This particular sexual activity, apparently somewhat abnormal, is never explicitly outlined. Now if that isn't a sign of respect for the characters, what is?

Another good thing: This isn't a movie in which a shy Kevin Costner speaks hesitantly to a modest Michelle Pfeiffer. Both characters aren't radiantly attractive. And they're not immediately drawn to each other, either. They learn to like each other, moment by moment. And we do the same. And the movie doesn't even bother to analyze why the woman seems slightly older than the man. They don't make a deal of it – why should we? This smells much more like real life than the immediate mating that occurs between expensive movie stars on Hollywood soundstages.

But before getting too high and mighty here about European class over American boorishness, it should be pointed out, this movie has its share of pretension. Director Fonteyne and scriptwriter Philippe Blasband cannot seem to avoid the inevitability of this couple falling in love. And the foreshadowings toward this "surprise" aren't that persuasive. They also create a documentary subplot, in which the two lovers speak to an offscreen interviewer about this chapter in their lives. If there's any suspense, it amounts to: How did it all end? Are they still together?

The talking-heads effect isn't as disastrous as Rob Reiner's similar strategy in "The Story of Us." But it doesn't work here, either. The filmmakers use this as a crutch to get their story told, yet add nothing to the movie. We never learn just why the filmmaker is speaking to these fictional characters in the first place. It's just assumed that it's quite okay to step into a drama and start interviewing one's own characters. As in: Hey Hamlet, do you consider yourself a breast man? But all in all, this movie kept me watching – not just for the possible spectacle of "her" and "him" turning into a naked "them," but for the way this thing turns out.

An Affair of Love (R, 80 minutes) – Contains a sexual scene and frank discussions about sex. In French with subtitles.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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