A brief but compelling two-character drama about a purely sexual relationship that unwittingly evolves into something more, "An Affair of Love" (titled "A Pornographic Affair" in its less fastidious native France) consists of probing post-breakup interviews with its nameless lovers (Nathalie Baye and Sergi Lopez) and flashbacks of the events surrounding their weekly hotel room romps.
The lovers -- she a lithe beauty in her late 30s showing her first signs of aging, he a slightly younger yuppie -- meet behind closed doors and never reveal exactly what they do in there, but it's implied they share some freaky fetish their real-life loves couldn't cope with.
But you wouldn't know it to look at them having coffee in a local cafe before each Thursday's tryst. They stare in each other's eyes and laugh nervously. She twist her hair on an index finger. They seem to find plenty to talk about even though they have a pact to never speak of their outside lives. We know they're falling in love before they do.
Yet we also know from the very beginning that they have since gone their separate ways. In the interview segments (which are not explained, just accepted as the part of the narrative structure), each of them has very fond remembrances but different recollections of events. Both seem to regret that their kinship ended, but she seems to have taken it harder, having made a drastic change to her personal style in an apparent attempt to recapture her youth. He, in contrast, seems more confident and vigorous in the wake of the affair.
But at first both he and she both seem a little dull. They're so indifferent to each other in their early scenes together that I wondered if the film might put me to sleep.
Within 10 minutes of that thought I was irrevocably engrossed by the deeply personal nature of this quietly exceptional film.
As the sex rendezvous turn into lingering coffee dates and then into longing hearts, the couple begin to share more of themselves than just their mutual carnal compulsion. "What if," he asks delicately, "we could have a drink? Talk a little? I'll take you to dinner."
"What if..." becomes their code for wanting to build something stronger between them.
"What if," she soon asks as if it were something taboo, "we made love...normally."
"That was what ruined it," he later recalls. "It was too nice."
Directed by Frédéric Fonteyne and written by his long-time collaborator Philippe Blasband (together they made 1997's "Max and Bobo"), "Affair" is a simple, refined and absorbing form of polite voyeurism. Fonteyne captures every nuance of body language and emotion. He also captures the elegant electricity of Paris in winter with beautiful photography that becomes less fluid and more kinetic as the two lovers become more confused about their feelings.
When a single outside event reminds them both of the complexities of real-world relationships, it forces them to address the direction of their affair, leading to a misunderstanding that leaves them both laden with regret.
Fonteyne deftly captivates the audience with these characters without ever revealing anything about who they really are. We know their hearts, but not their lives, and it's fascinating.
Run time: 80 mins
In Theaters: Saturday 4th September 1999
Distributed by: Fine Line Features
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 30 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Frederic Fonteyne
Also starring: Sergi Lopez
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