Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2023 10:49 pm 
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The feeling in this affair doesn't come till it's over

The title tells you what we're in for, no more, no less. A series of time-lines calibrates the affair's progression, end, and aftermath (possibly the best part), just like in an Éric Rohmer film. And as in Rohmer, the couple does nothing but talk about love affairs without ever making love on screen. The other element Mouret's identified with, the Woody Allen, is supplied by Simon (Vincent Macaigne), the shy, self-deprecating lover with a touch of French finesse and a physicality provided by his occupation: OB/Gyn prenatal trainer. But the sweetly goofy Macaigne has none of Woody Allen's intelligence and wit. (There is comedy, some of doubtless lost on the Anglophone viewer.)

In Rohmer, the people are young and attractive. Short, dark, bearded, stocky Simon and tall, blond, angular Charlotte (Sandrine Kiberlain) make an odd and no particularly sexy of attractive couple. Their "chemistry" seems more just acting skill, of which they have plenty. The writing, in French fashion, involves a lot of talk about love, but the drama of indecision and expectation in Rohmer or the excitement of plot twists in French farce are almost entirely lacking. Instead, this winds up being an attractively played discussion of the ins and out of a fleeting, or not-too-deep, love affair. Can it be pleasure without pain? (Of course not.)

The pair aren't much to look at but are nicely dressed, Kiberlain tweedy, Macaigne in a succession of impeccable suit jackets, and they discuss their affair's pros and cons and progression and limits in impeccably well-turned sentences. Simon is hesitant, then eager. Most of the conversations are about hat, and Charlotte's keeping him from wanting too much or getting clingy, and they get repetitious so fast the movie starts to pall before reaching the halfway mark.

Rohmer found more beautiful people and knew well how to play with temptation and expectation in ways Mouret hasn't a clue about. This film, like Rohmer's, is quite artificial, a minuet (this was carried to an extreme in Mouret's 2020 The Things We Say, The Things We Do). To see just how artificial it is, what the passion and cost of a real extramarital affair can be, compare Mia Hansen-Love's wrenching One Fine Day (note also how much sexier and better looking the stars, Léa Seydoux and Melvil Poupaud are; how much more a sense of their characters' surrounding lives we get).

This in contrast is an elegant, stylish, rather bloodless exercise with its Serge Gainsbourg songs and its sweet little intervals of Mozart piano, its lovely forests and parks and handsome interiors. Meant as a civilized entertainment, it unfortunately only entertains for a while. Apparently aware of the way it's started to get draggy and repetitious before midway, Mouret jazzes things up with a surprise out of the modern playbook: a third party met via a dating app, Louise (Georgia Scalliet). She's got kids and an architect husband, justifying the palatially minimal modern house she lives in, where after a meeting at a museum, the amorous encounter (unseen) takes place. And she shakes things up in a way the resolutely hetero Rohmer never thought of.

That third party destroys the couple, and the modest, wimpy, fatalistic Simon accepts that this was a fleeting affair anyway. But it is when he and Charlotte meet again by chance outside a cinema two years later, see a film together (ironically that most robust of couples dramas, Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage), then have a walk-and-talk after, that the film finally achieves some real emotional resonance. What's best is that both Simon and Charlotte have fond memories of their affair, both wish they could resume it, and go further, both sadly must accept that they can't. Looking nostalgically back on a love affair has rarely been handled so poignantly in a film. Too bad some of that emotion couldn't have come earlier.

Diary of a Fleeting Affair/Chronique d’une liaison passagère, 100 mins., French release Jan.. 24, 2022; AlloCiné press rating 4.0 (80%).
Friday, March 3 at 4:00pm
Monday, March 6 at 9:30p

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