Tag Archives: adultery

Love is My Profession (1958)

“You can’t explain happiness.”

Based on a Simenon novel, Love is My Profession (1958) aka En Cas de Malheur examines the power of sexuality and the issue of control through the obsessive relationship between a bourgeois French lawyer with a young girl. The young girl in question is Yvette, played by sulky kittenish Brigitte Bardot, a woman for whom morality isn’t exactly absent, but it is skewed. Normally, affluent middle-aged lawyer André Gobillot (Jean Gabin) wouldn’t cross paths with someone like Yvette, but Yvette seeks help and legal representation from Gobillot after she and her friend Noémie  (Annick Allières) attempt to knock off a jewelry shop, and Yvette ends up bashing the jeweler’s elderly wife over the head with a crowbar. After the robbery goes wrong, Yvette manages to run away to a bar where her sometime lover, student doctor, Gaston (Claude Magnier) works. Yvette gets the notion that she needs legal help and picks out Gobillot’s name from the phone book. Whether or not you think this is a stroke of luck or not may depend upon your romantic tendencies. 

Gobillot at first refuses to represent penniless Yvette until she raises her skirt and in an unforgettable scene reveals her lack of underwear and her garter belt. From this moment, Gobillot is a goner, and his personal and professional lives spiral out of control.He represents Yvette in court and by some clever, but unethical legal footwork, Gobillot manages to get his client free. Instead of Yvette walking back to her former life, Gobillot pays her bill at a hotel that’s all too conveniently close to the courthouse.  DVD covers often depict scenes far more salaciously than they actually are in the film, but this DVD cover is an exception. Bardot’s skirt is lifted higher in the film and you can see her garter belt and it’s also obvious that she’s not wearing underwear. Well the offer she makes to Gobillot is rather frank after all….

One of this marvelous film’s great characters is Madame Gobillot, played exquisitely by Edwige Feuillère. She’s not exactly a long-suffering wife, but she understands her husband better than he understands himself, so she’s one step ahead of his intentions when it comes to Yvette.

Gobillot begins an affair with Yvette, and although this should be a private matter, the illicit relationship has ramifications on everyone in Gobillot’s life. His wife initially accepts the affair as a silly passing interest, and she decides to tolerate it and keep the lines of communication open until Gobillot comes to his senses. Meanwhile Gobillot’s devoted old maid secretary, Bordenave (Madeleine Barbulée) is alternately shocked, concerned and titillated by Gobillot’s flagrantly erotic relationship with Yvette.

The complexities of the film’s characters add significantly to a tale that could be trite in the wrong hands. After all, the mid-life affair of a man of substance with a giddy, promiscuous blonde is hardly unexplored territory. While Gobillot’s relationship with Yvette is heavily sexual, there’s a large slice of the father-child dynamic at play. Gobillot treats Yvette rather as he would a naughty five-year-old, and this method works for the most part–even though her behaviour includes drug use and flagrant infidelity. For her part, self-confessed prostitute Yvette feels that she owes a debt to Gobillot, but their relationship extends beyond gratitude and also beyond the material security he showers her with.  Yvette’s sense of morality includes admitting infidelities to Gobillot, and he treats her like a child when she confesses or is upset–even holding a tissue while she blows her nose.

As the affair grows more serious, Madame Gobillot’s tolerance is stretched to breaking point, and in once great scene, Gobillot tells Bordenave that he’s giving his wife “real reasons to hate” and compares this to a “mercy killing.” While Madame Gobillot’s tolerance is a strategic move, her decision to allow her husband ‘freedom’ to indulge in this affair proves catastrophic. Freedom and possession also raises its head in Yvette’s relationships with Gobillot and Gaston. Both men want exclusive ownership–whereas Yvette seems happier with no constraints on her behaviour.

Love is My Profession was remade into the 1998 film In All Innocence (En Plein Coeur), and interestingly the original film is bleaker and its characters much more complex. It’s impossible to watch Love is My Profession without recalling Simenon’s life and his turbulent marriages. At one point while married to first wife, Tigy, he had a long-term affair with the maid, Boule, and when he and his wife travelled to America, his wife stipulated that the maid remain behind. However, when Simenon began an affair with Denyse, the woman who would become his second wife, his then current wife sent for the maid to join them. There’s a very odd scene in the film which includes Janine, the maid (Nicole Berger). Is it just me but is there some swinging going on there?

Love is My Profession is an entry into Caroline & Richard’s Foreign Film festival.

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When Father was Away on Business (1985)

“Better Russian shit than American cake.”

I’m not fond of films that take the child’s point of view, but the Yugoslavian film, When Father Was Away on Business from director Emir Kusturica is excellent for its view of exactly how a child tries to make sense of the adult world set in a totalitarian state. It’s 1950, two years after Tito broke from the Soviet Union, and the film set in the Informbiro period covers two years in the life of Malik (Moreno D’E. Bartolli), the youngest son of married couple Mesa (Miki Manojlovic) and Sena (Mirjana Karanovic). Mesa, who is perpetually unfaithful during the course of the film, falls foul of his brother-in-law, Zijo (Mustafa Nadarevic) a communist party official. While Mesa’s crime is ostensibly an off-hand remark he makes about a cartoon, his real ‘crime’ is having an affair with Ankica (Mira Furlan), a woman who then becomes involved with Zijo. The personal matter between Mesa and Zijo is camouflaged as a problem for the state with Zijo misusing his power.  As part of the rehabilitation process, Mesa is bundled off as forced labour to a mine but Malik is told his father is ‘away on business.’

Malik, who turns out to be a great, stoic little kid by the way, is used to reading between the lines when it comes to negotiating the adult world. After all three generations of the family live in rather cramped quarters, and Malik, who’s a quiet child overhears things he’s not supposed to. For example, the father of his best friend was taken away “by men in leather coats,” and the family even holds a funeral with a empty coffin at one point. Malik learns that some things happen but are never discussed, and while he rolls with seemingly bizarre events, he doesn’t fully accept some of the lies he’s told.

Eventually Malik and his family move from Sarajevo to the remote wetland area of Zvornik in order for Mesa to undergo “resocialising,” and throughout the film, we see a number of family events: a wedding, a circumcision, and a funeral which display the culture which is inevitably  impacted by the totalitarian state. The film makes it clear that normal, robust family life is not suppressed by the totalitarian state but only complicated by it.

There are a couple of scenes in which Mesa is called in for questioning–once in Sarajevo and once in the remote area of Zvornik. Both times Mesa is questioned there’s rather interestingly no torture, but then again there’s no need for it as Mesa has already been judged by the bureaucratic powers. In both scenes circulating fans act as symbols of the totalitarian machine with the power to blow people’s lives apart. When Father was Away on Business is both an excellent and seminal film for its low-key portrayal of a difficult time in Yugoslavian history, and for the way in which the film adroitly depicts the interference of the totalitarian state in the lives of ordinary people. Mesa’s behaviour, after all, is a matter for his wife–not a concern of the state, and so ultimately the film shows how the abusive state interferes in private lives for the flimsiest of excuses. 

When Father Was Away on Business is an entry in Caroline and Richard’s Foreign Film Festival

 

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A Life of Her Own (1950)

“Listen you small-time chiseler, I don’t want any small favours or any big favours from you. Or anything else you use to buy with. I’m not in the business you think I am, and I’m never going to be, but if I were I’d be out of your price range. If I were it would take me 10 years to get around to you.” (Lily to Lee)

 

A Life of Her Own is a classic drama starring Lana Turner as small-town Kansas girl, Lily James who seeks fulfillment through a modelling career only to find that success–without love–is a hollow triumph.

It takes Lily 6 months to save for the fare from Kansas to New York, and this is evidence of her determination to succeed at the career she longs for. She arrives in the chaotic offices of the Thomas Caraway agency and manages to attract the attention of the owner (Tom Ewell). While he agrees to take Lily on as a model, he has reservations about her potential. After many years in the business, he considers himself a good judge of character, and a kind streak appears in his treatment of has-been, boozed up model, Mary (Ann Dvorak).

It’s fate that Lily meets Mary in Callaway’s office. Lily is right on the verge of beginning her career and aging Mary, after 13 years on the modeling circuit, is washed up. Mary takes Lily under her wing, and Lily’s first, significant night in New York is spent with Mary, her date advertising executive Lee (Barry Sullivan), and Lily’s date,  lawyer Jim (Louis Calhern). Lily is a new fresh face in town, and Lee makes it clear that he’d rather be with Lily than with Mary. It’s a horrible evening with bitterly jealous Mary getting drunker by the minute. As it turns out, it’s a night that Lily never forgets, and Lee plays a small yet significant Faustian role in Lily’s life when he reappears much later.

Lily takes a harsh lesson from Mary and so begins her climb to success. Her famous, perfect face is on the cover of every magazine, but in spite of the fact she is a 50s ‘super model,’ her personal life is negligible, and her feet remain firmly on the ground. Lily continues to live at that bastion of female propriety, The Betsy Ross Hotel–a hotel which restricts male visitors to the mezzanine with a forced 10 pm departure. Always lurking in the shadows is the memory of Mary and how easy it can be to slide from fame and fortune into obscurity. Lily’s world is shaken to the core when she’s introduced to Steve Harleigh (Ray Milland), a wealthy copper mine owner. They fall in love, but Steve is a married man….

A Life of Her Own is essentially a soap drama, and beautiful Lana Turner is the best element in the film. It’s easy to imagine her single-minded devotion to her career, and it’s also equally easy to understand how she’ s side-swiped by love. Ray Milland doesn’t quite cut it as the lover–he seems tired or perhaps defeated as the man torn between love and duty. This is the classic cornelian dilemma (choix cornélian*) in which a character must choose between two courses of action with either choice resulting in a negative result on someone involved.

 As with any soap, some of the elements are corny or hyped up to add to the drama. In this film, Steve’s wife, Nora (Margaret Phillips) is angling for sainthood, and of course this just makes the affair between Lily and Steve that much more atrocious. Lily initially shows a great deal of fire and backbone when she deals with the slimy Lee, but unfortunately the script reins in Lily and instead doles out passivity and victimhood. I rather liked A Life of Her Own in spite of its flaws. I liked the film’s structure, its emphasis on character, and the way the plot followed Lily through her rise to fame while showing the hollow triumph of her success. Lana Turner does a terrific job with the role she’s handed, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Lee. We can practically see Lana’s skin crawl with disdain for this low-life, opportunistic character.

Wendell Corey was initially cast in the role of Steve, but in her autobiography, Lana Turner mentions that she asked that he be replaced. She’d never thought him suitable for the part anyway, but then after overhearing a remark he made, she refused to play opposite him. Corey was replaced with Milland. A Life of Her Own is from director George Cukor

* Special thanks to www.bookaroundthecorner.wordpress.com for explaining the choix cornélian–a term derived from the plays of Pierre Corneille.

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Forbidden (1932)

“You’re poison to me. Poison. I wish I’d never met you!”

The Frank Capra pre-code film Forbidden examines a love affair between a single career girl and a politician. Yes, the story of the backstreet love affair has been done a million times, but there are nice little complications to Forbidden that elevate this drama from the mediocre. And of course, it does star Barbara Stanwyck….

The film begins with librarian, Lulu Smith (Barbara Stanwyck) deciding on a whim (and infected with spring fever) to cash in her savings and take a cruise to Havana. In the library, she’s a spectacled frump complete with a bun, but once aboard ship, she’s dressed in a full-length evening gown, fur stole and glittery jewelry, but she’s still noticeably alone–a fact that confounds the ship’s crew. 

Lulu meets and promptly falls in love with another solitary passenger, Bob (Adolphe Menjou). Nicknaming each other 66 and 99 (after the numbers of their cabins), Bob and Lulu spend the entire time together–both on the cruise ship and later in Cuba’s nightclubs. Their love affair is light and devil-may-care. Any serious discussion is deliberately avoided–although at one point Lulu does drop a broad suggestion about skipping the homeward bound ship and staying in Havana.

But Lulu and Bob return to their old lives. She begins working at a newspaper office where she attracts the interest of Holland (Ralph Bellamy), but Lulu makes it clear she’s not interested. Meanwhile Bob’s continuing relationship with Lulu is marginalized into the odd stolen hour, and in spite of the fact he’s a lawyer, Lulu never sees his name in the paper. Eventually of course, Bob reveals he’s married and cannot divorce his wife. Lulu is content to take crumbs but circumstances drive the couple apart.

Forbidden traces the relationship between Bob and Lulu over several decades. Bob’s political career soars while Lulu remains in the background, and she sacrifices again and again–career, relationships, motherhood–these issues are sacrificed on the altar of Bob’s home and career.  Forbidden explores the oppositional forces of selfishness and selflessness through their relationship.  At first, Bob and Lulu think of themselves and their desires, but then Bob shifts and suddenly he has to protect his wife, Helen (Dorothy Peterson) due to  her ‘invalidism’. His argument against a divorce to protect his wife also rather conveniently ensures the continuance of his political career. The film doesn’t explore Bob’s motives a great deal, but the tantalizing possibility that Bob uses his wife as an excuse to protect his political ambition is evident. 

Forbidden is a film that can generate a lot of intriguing discussions, and I suspect many of us would have different opinions about the characters, their motives, and just how selfish or unselfish they really are.

The film makes it clear that Lulu and Bob both very deftly avoid any discussion of their lives when they first meet. In fact at one point, Bob seems (in retrospect) on the verge of confession, when Lulu stops him. Later, Bob’s late night visits must also rouse Lulu’s suspicions but once again she avoids confronting the truth until she’s forced to. This conspiracy of silence extends beyond the lovebirds and even includes Bob’s wife. During one scene in the film, Bob’s wife is about to take off for Europe for a ‘cure,’ and she gives Bob carte blanche to do as he pleases, telling him:

“While I’m away, I want you to have a good time and I won’t ask any questions either.”

So it seems that Bob and Lulu’s affair will be ignored by the missus just as long as he keeps it under wraps. So we have a mistress who’d rather not know about the wife, and a wife who’d rather not know about the mistress. And what of Bob? He has his proverbial cake and eats it too. At one point, Bob rather lamely tells Lulu: “why I’ve taken your life almost as though I’d been a murderer,” and in another scene, he whines (rather unconvincingly, I thought) about how difficult his life is.

Then there’s the question of Holland. He’s every bit as ambitious as Bob, but his goal as newspaper editor is to ruin Bob’s career, and so Holland digs hard and deep for a scandal. Lulu uses Holland, and yet Holland uses Lulu too. So basically we see these four adults in twisted relationships that are a bizarre combination of selfishness and selflessness, and by the time the film ends the results of these relationships are disastrous and destructive.

Forbidden is a really interesting early pre-code vehicle for Stanwyck. The drama steers clear of hysteria and too much melodrama. The weepy bits are well done and conducted with beautiful touches–my favourite scene is when Bob runs after Lulu in the rain. Catch the moment when the rain drips from Bob’s hat. It’s a magnificent touch.

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Jerichow (2008)

“You can’t love if you don’t have money.”

There are some situations you would never chose to become involved with, but desperation leads you there.

jerichowThe German film Jerichow begins with Thomas (Benno Furmann) attending his mother’s funeral. He has a past, an unknown history, but now he is back at the humble little house owned by his recently deceased mother. He’s just left her funeral when he’s visited by two men from his past. Exactly what happened and what Thomas’s relationship is to these men isn’t clear, but it is obvious that there’s some sort of criminal activity involved, and that Thomas has stolen some money.

The visit leaves Thomas without the little purloined nest egg he’d intended to use to repair his mother’s dilapidated house. With no job, and no money, this dishonorably discharged soldier turns to the state for help getting a job. The next thing you know, Thomas is part of a cucumber harvesting crew, performing extremely difficult work–no doubt for a pittance.

Thomas’s luck seems to be improving when he meets Ali (Hilmi Sozer), the chubby, middle aged Turk who owns a chain of snack bars sprinkled throughout the region. But that’s not the only thing Ali owns–he also has a gorgeous country home, and a blonde German wife, Laura (Nina Hoss). After Thomas does Ali a favour, Ali offers Thomas a job as his driver, and Thomas accepts.

With the three main characters in place, the film then creates an effective love triangle. Laura is obviously sick and tired of her husband, and Ali is busy spying on Laura and testing her loyalties. Surely no one in their right minds would see Laura as anything other than ‘off limits,’ but Thomas doesn’t seem to care, and soon, Laura and Thomas are groping each other every chance they get.

It’s impossible to watch Jerichow (Jerichow is the name of Thomas’s home town, by the way) without being aware that the plot is a reworking of James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, made into a film first in 1946 and remade in 1981.

One of the biggest differences between the 1946 American film version and this German retelling of the tale is that the character of Ali is far more interesting–even if he is more unpleasant. As Thomas drives Ali from snack bar to snack bar, Ali anticipates the actions of some of his managers. He expects to be cheated, and he’s not disappointed when people do exactly what he expects. Similarly, he expects Laura to sneak around and cheat on him too, and of course this makes the way he dangles Laura in front of Thomas rather intriguing.

Thomas and Laura don’t struggle with the morality of the situation. To them, it’s a black and white situation which is determined by cold cash. Jerichow also tackles the immigrant perspective, and here even though Ali is a wealthy man, he can’t wait to retire back in Turkey–a place he still considers home even though he only returns periodically. There’s a sense that this is the new Germany–with hunky Thomas disenfranchised after a bout with the army and Laura, bought and paid for by the only man interested enough to afford her price tag.

All three of the main characters are well cast: Benno Furman with his economy of movement and speech, Nina Hoss as the burned out wife who chokes on her subservient role, and Ali, a man who’s far deeper than he appears to be. From director Christian Petzold.

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The Lover (AKA Lyubovnik) 2002

“She knew how to keep a secret.”

In the Russian film, The Lover middle-aged Mitya (Oleg Yankovsky) is devastated when his wife, 37-year old, Elena drops dead of a heart attack. As he mourns and tries to readjust to life without her, he finds a discarded love letter written to another man. Mitya discovers that his wife had a long-term affair that began shortly after their marriage. Mitya begins questioning his wife’s friends and relatives about the affair and discovers the identity of the other man, former army officer Vanya (Sergei Gamash).

This is a remarkably subtle film–a character study that focuses on Mitya’s attempts to cope with each new startling phase of discovery. At first he mourns for his dead wife, but then he discovers that he didn’t really know her. Loss, denial, outrage and anger must all be experienced while Mitya pieces together the puzzle of the last 16 years of his life. Almost against his will, Mitya begins to establish a relationship with Vanya, and it begins badly with hostility and accusations–as if they still have something left to fight over. But both of these men are solitary souls who loved the same woman, and just as she eluded them from total possession in life, she now eludes them both in her death. And this leaves them both with a vague feeling of disquiet and many questions. Who did she ‘really’ love? Would she ever have left her husband? Why did she remain with him? And who is the father of her child?

This quiet study in human anguish is beautifully acted and accompanied by exquisite, perfectly composed cinematography. Both the story and the vivid cinematography subtly emphasize that Mitya and Vanya’s homes are only 5 stops apart on the same tramline that conveniently runs in front of both of their homes. The tramline is the symbolic representation of the connections and the distance we maintain through our relationships, and it is to the cinematographer’s credit that trams are portrayed here so beautifully. At nighttime there are scenes of snow swirling in front of tram lights, two trams passing each other across a deserted town square, and flashes of electricity spark briefly from the power line as the tram moves slowly off into the dusk. The film asks the question–How well can you ever really know another human being? And the answer is unsettling. Directed by Valeri Tadorovsky, The Lover is in Russian with English subtitles.

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