WE EXPECT MORE from France when it comes to movies about sex. Compared to Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972) or Catherine Breillat's explosive Romance (1999), the issues raised in Fr餩ric Fonteyne's documentarylike An Affair of Love seem like old news. A nameless fortysomething woman (Nathalie Baye) recalls her past affair with a man (Sergi Lopez) she met through a personal ad. It was "just sex, only sex," she explains. (How many times have we heard that one?) Inevitably, after a few weekly trysts at a hotel, the couple treads the familiar course of a full-on relationship—feelings of love arise, as do fear and doubt; trust is crossed by suspicion. The film's only real surprise is its avoidance of actual sex scenes.
AN AFFAIR OF LOVE
directed by Fr餩ric Fonteyne with Nathalie Baye and Sergi Lopez
opens September 1 at Broadway Market
Its original title was the more provocative Une Liaison Pornographique. Far from its implications, however, Affair is less carnal than cerebral, with much of the sex happening behind literally closed doors. We watch the man and woman register at a hotel, then walk down a completely red, suggestive hallway. Once they're about to enter their room, the camera returns to the present, where Baye and Lopez are interviewed separately about the affair. They differ on a couple of particulars—he claims the relationship lasted six months; she thinks it was three. Both speak fondly of each other, but refuse to reveal the particular sexual fantasy—hers—that they shared together.
Affair has the formal qualities of a stage play. Most of the action takes place in the hotel and a nearby caf鮠Fonteyne's approach initially makes for an interesting cinematic exercise, but the overall effect feels stilted. When Baye, over coffee, blurts out to Lopez that she loves him and wants to grow old with him, she fails to convince. (Yet she did earn an award at SIFF for her acting in this film and Venus Beauty Academy.) We only share their intense feelings when Lopez chases Baye after a spat: The movie set suddenly breaks away into a subway station, but he loses her in a crowd of commuters. In urgent voice-over, he reminds us that he doesn't know her name or phone number.
Ultimately, if Affair has anything to say, it's that a purely sexual relationship is a fantasy in and of itself. But we knew that already.