As if to add insult to injury, our first actual scenes are of the woman (Nathalie Baye, Day For Night) and man (Sergi López) after the affair, being interviewed by some off-screen voice. It's very When Harry Met Sally..., only with the added layer of being French lovers talking about their passionate encounters. Hoo boy, this is gonna be a long road, isn't it?
We learn that the woman placed an ad in a magazine. Of all the potential candidates, this man seemed the most interesting. He's handsome in a boyish sort of way, seemingly affable if slightly dorky. She's a little older than he is, more world-wise, more open to experience and experiment. They don't tell each other their names, ages, professions, where they live. It was meant to be nothing personal.
After the round of interview footage, Affair goes back in time to their first encounter at a cafe. She's already booked a room. Through a series of nervous false starts, they make it through a halting conversation. At the hotel, it seems an eternity for the desk clerk to ring up the man's credit card, then they take the long walk up the stairs and down the hallway, through the bright red door.
It suddenly dawned on me that perhaps half an hour had gone by in the blink of an eye. I was utterly enthralled by every small nuance of this encounter, every beat of silence.
Nathalie Baye's face is lined with age. Perhaps she's in her mid-40s, but very fit for a woman who might have mothered children. Her eyes flicker and dance, but she's not the type to give much away. Bright, courteous, sexually open - she's interesting even though we know very little about her. All we can tell, as the man freely admits, is that she's a real woman. In today's age where attractive girls are all models and pin-ups, this film finds beauty in the normal lady walking down the street.
Sergi López makes for a nice foil. He's a little tubby and hairy, but he doesn't take himself too seriously. He has friendly, soft eyes, and a mouth which is quick to smile. At the first meeting, he's perhaps a little more nervous than she. He does order a cognac to brace himself.
Their first sexual encounter, which is built up to so vividly, remains behind closed doors. Maybe that's as it should be. For a film about sex, there isn't very much of it shown during the film. In a way, this makes it all the sweeter as we watch them during their second meeting at the cafe. Once more we don't see their amour. After the hotel, that second time, the man works up the courage to ask her to dinner later that night.
On they go, never learning where the other lives. They keep much as a mystery from each other, but reveal enough to keep us interested. Maybe that's the nature of affairs, especially sexual ones. The secrets.
The film runs a little over ninety minutes. It's never dull. I could have done without the frequent voice-overs, which run over scenes where I might have preferred to hear the naturalistic dialogue between the lovers. I'm also no big fan of self-conscious "interview" footage, which only served to make me wonder how the documentarian tracked them down. These faults, while glaring, are forgiven because the rest of the film feels so alluring, so sexy and smart. They meet, they talk, they make love and, slowly, grow closer.
There are many scenes where they talk frankly about sex. As for the actual onscreen lovemaking, it is kept to a minimum, but there's a startling scene midway which has them in bed slowly working their way toward orgasm. This is not the sex of Hollywood gloss, or even of art house decadence, or even of pornography.
Sex in American films is either a marathon, a farce, a music video, or a tragedy. An Affair of Love is all of the above, only less self-important. It's insubstantial, but that's pretty much the point. They only had what they had and the rest is in their memories. So it is for the viewer, too. Maybe it's only worth a rental, but that's more than what you'd expect walking in.
Aka Une liaison pornographique.
Rub a dub dub, strangers in a tub.
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: Frédéric Fonteyne
Screenwriter: Philippe Blasband