Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:22 pm 
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Don't mess with a masterpiece

The whole trouble with Adrian Lyne's 'Unfaithful' is that it's an American remake by a commercial British director of a cynical, edgy 1969 French thriller, Claude Chabrol's 'La Femme Infidele.' One could argue that Lyne's track record damns him from the start, linking him as it does more than a little with the likes of Zalman King, for whom adultery is just a way of spicing up some soft core sex. 'Unfaithful' is not without merit - Richard Gere as Edward Sumner allows himself to step down from supercilious glamour to be a bit of a loser, a man not sexy to his wife; Diane Lane's performance as that wife, Connie, who falls under the spell of Paul Martel, Olivier Martinez's good natured, but stereotypical version of a young SoHo-dwelling Euro-hunk, is energetic and committed and the public has loved it. But what in Chabrol's film was bright, hard and gripping in the manner of Hitchcock and Highsmith becomes, in Lyne's hands, a messed-up woman's picture, full of fantasy, guilt, unresolved emotion and unresolved action. To begin with - and this beginning weighs down the movie --the affair between Connie and Paul is so glamorous, sexy, reckless and hot that it appears to be an end in itself and the husband's subsequent revenge seems like quite another - way too long - movie. Lyne's mixed messages are signaled by the fact that the mise-en-scene, the whole look of the movie, is far too glitzy and unreal throughout 'Unfaithful,' starting with the dreadfully overdone windstorm that throws Connie and Paul into each other's arms on Mercer Street.

And Lyne doesn't know how to end the warped version of Chabrol's story he has created. He hates for Gere's character to get punished for his revenge (aren't Edward and Connie close again once Paul's out of the way? Wasn't their marriage really fine all along?), but, well, murder is a Bad Bad Thing; so after suggesting any number of endings, 'Unfaithful' stops with the final outcome all up in the air. And the bumbling around, the groping for a suitable finale, makes the movie's final half hour seem interminable.

All of 'Unfaithful's' flaws can be traced to its departures from Chabrol's classic: why tinker with a masterpiece? Chabrol's tweaking of French bourgeois smugness and boredom is lost because Lyne's movie isn't willing to show the suburban marriage as anything but smooth and glossy - perfect, really. They've got a lovely house, nice lives, a cute, engagingly quirky and outspoken nine-year-old son (Erik Per Sullivan of 'Malcolm in the Middle' makes a bit of a Shakespearean child). After the husband (Gere) half-accidentally gets rid of the lover, the couple is reunited in guilt and angst: it's so mushy. Chabrol's couple found their sex lives greatly improved. Lyne's movie isn't that cool. Lyne's lover is so glamorized, such an older woman's fantasy, that the movie loses track of his main function in the original story: in Chabrol's film, the lover was basically just a huge problem. Lyne makes him a super-turn on, and then just a huge source of guilt. There's no resolution.

True, Diane Lane nearly saves the picture at times, because her slightly worn beauty - she's a little frayed, but still very attractive, and, as her women friends say, she's still got the same ass she had in college - makes us want her to go out and have fun. And when the fun is too intense and too guilt-ridden, as in the great sequence where we see Lane in the commuter train after the first sex session, her face taking us through all the emotions of adulterous passion, intercut with glimpses of Paul's creative love-making - for that moment we're carried away. Unfortunately, though, Chabrol's movie was about something else, which the lover and the adultery only led up to. Lyne's 'Unfaithful' sticks close to Chabrol's plot till the end, but it constantly seems to want to be something quite different, something more like Brigitte Rouen's 1997 'After Sex' ('Post Coitum Animal Triste'), which is more embarrassing but also more real (there's no revenge, just a big come-down when the younger man moves on, and a tough effort at reconciliation). 'After Sex' is about the wife's folly. But Chabrol's plot, which Lyne is closely following, is about the cuckolded husband's anger, how it can both revive and wreck a marriage. 'Unfaithful' is pulled in two totally different directions, sex fantasy and revenge thriller, and it comes apart, while we check our watches. ('Une Femme Infidele' was far more gripping, and half an hour shorter.)

May 25, 2002

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