Tag Archives: infidelity

Happy Happy (2010)

Ok, so the Norwegian film Happy Happy (Sykt Lykkelig) from director Anne Sewistsky may not change your world, but it is an entertaining way to spend 85 minutes–especially if you’re interested to see how climate impacts personal lives.

Happy Happy begins with the arrival of a small family to a freshly rented house–Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens), her husband Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen), and their adopted black son, Noa (Ram Shihab Ebedy). They’re new to the remote rural area and are renting the house right next to their landlords, another young family composed of Kaja (Agnes Kittleson), husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelson) and son Theodor (Oskar Hernaes Brandso). Kaja, a happy go-lucky German teacher at the local junior high, can’t wait for the new family to move in. She’s hoping that they’ll become friends, and after an initial introduction, it’s clear that Kaja’s optimism and desperate need for friendship mask a lifeless marriage fraught with problems. Kaja’s neediness and obvious admiration for the other couple (she sees them as being sophisticated and glamorous) spell trouble, and Elisabeth sniffs that Kaja, although pleasant enough, is a shade too desperate. And when there are no other neighbours for miles around, who wants the woman next door to be so needy for any sign of human companionship?

As it turns out, proximity and social isolation can be a dangerous thing, and since there seems to be little to do on those long, Norwegian winter nights, after a  few awkward dinners, the 2 couples get together in the evenings to play games. Kaja and Sigve welcome the social interaction, but Elisabeth finds the evenings tedious, and taciturn Eirik would obviously rather be off on one of his mysterious moose hunting expeditions. After games of Charades falls flat, Sigve, much to Elisabeth’s annoyance,  invests in the board game Couples. An evening’s entertainment  which includes some pointed personal questions, reveals fractured relationships along with the rather embarrassing information that Eirik claims to no longer has sex with Kaja due to her perennial yeast infection–a condition she adamantly denies.

The film’s subplot concerns the relationship between the children, and while the adults play Charades and board games, Theodur decides to make Noa play ‘slave.’ So we see several games afoot–all of which have serious consequences. Sigve, Elisabeth, Kaja and Eirik all try to play at being happily married, duplicitous facades which slip as the film wears on, but even as the couples try to fool each other, honesty between the respective partners isn’t exactly on the table either, and a crisis must occur before some painful truths finally make it to the surface.

Nothing too earth shattering happens here, and the film takes a light, comedic approach to some serious issues. While I didn’t quite buy the ending, for this viewer, the culture and lifestyle adjustments made for climate made this well-acted film entertaining and worth catching.

Happy Happy is an entry into Caroline and Richard’s foreign film festival.

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Someone I Loved (Je L’Aimais) 2009

“Dealing with a Frenchman in love is too dangerous.”

Someone I loved (Je L’Aimais) is based on the best-selling novel by Anna Gavalda. It’s the story of Pierre (Daniel Auteuil), who takes his daughter-in-law, Chloe (Florence Loiret Caille) and two small granddaughters to the family chalet to stay following a family crisis. Pierre’s son, Adrian, has abruptly dumped his wife and children, and Chloe who “never saw it coming” is so emotionally devastated, Pierre thinks it’s wise to take her away somewhere quiet for a few days until she stabilises.

When the film begins, we see a tear-stained Chloe as she and the children are hustled away by car to the remote chalet. She’s angry, she’s hurt and she’s confused. Once there, her children are glued to cartons while she tries to make sense of what happened. Pierre tries to engage her in several ways–at one point telling the story of his brother who went to Indochina after a broken love affair and then who later died of TB.  Then one night, Pierre is driven to tell the story of an affair he had years earlier….

Flashbacks via Pierre’s interrupted story-telling reveal just how 46-year-old Pierre, an affluent Paris businessmen, and director of his own company, met and fell in love with interpreter Mathilde (Marie-Josée Croze). Pierre admits that he was ambushed by his passion: “I didn’t know I was programmed to love like that,” he confides to Chloe.

Over the course of the affair, Pierre has to juggle family and career demands with the desire to be with Mathilde. Theirs is a long-term, passionate affair–potentially the most damaging variety. Scenes with Mathilde are juxtaposed with scenes of Pierre’s unhappy, argumentative family life. According to his status-conscious wife, Suzanne (Christiane Millet), Pierre is never “there” for the family. Interactions between Pierre and his  two teenage children rapidly devolve into shouting matches, while he’s nagged non-stop by his wife when he does put in an appearance. All the phases of the affair unfold: the ecstatic beginnings, the ‘what-about-us’ phase, and the final stage as the affair disintegrates. The film does a marvellous job of showing the heady sensation of the affair. Pierre’s time with Mathilde is an equivalent of being on holiday from his job and his responsibilities.

We know that Pierre didn’t leave his wife–that is evident in the film’s very first scene. But we don’t know the reasons behind his decision. While Pierre’s story of the affair consumes most of the film, there’s also Chloe’s reaction. As a woman on the losing end of an affair, will she have sympathy for Pierre? How will she feel about Pierre’s decision to remain with his family? As the wounded party in her marriage, she makes a unique audience for Pierre, and his story gives her incredible insight into the other half of adultery.

In some ways, Someone I Loved may sound like rather rote fare, but it isn’t. Like any marvellous French film, the sum total is greater than its parts. As Pierre tells his stories and reveals his regrets, he must confront some unpleasant truths about his character. At one point, he admits, painfully, that his choice was “atrocious,” yet at the same time, it’s fairly easy to draw the conclusion that there was no easy solution. Now in his 60s, would he have regretted making the ‘other’ choice?  Is his regret for staying with his wife simply because the unchosen path (“The Road Not Taken“) seems infinitely more desirable?

From director Zabou Breitman

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Autumn Marathon (1979)

“I’m not a talented man. I just translate talented writers.”

Set in Leningrad, Autum Marathon (Osenniy Marafon) is touted as a sad-comedy. It’s the story of translator and lecturer Andrei Pavlovich Buzykin (Oleg Basilashvili), a middle-aged man who’s caught between two women. Andrei is married to Nina (Natalya Gundareva) but locked into a passionate affair with typist Alla (Marina Neyolova). When the film begins, Andrei is busy juggling his affair and his marriage while satisfying the demands of his wife, his mistress, and his career. On top of that, he is hosting a Danish professor, Bill who’s there to work on Russian translations and learn about Soviet culture at the same time.

As the story continues, Andrei finds himself in hot water with his mistress, his wife, and his publisher. Trying to keep both women happy, Andrei passes off a number of increasingly thin lies, and on some occasions, he even tells both women the same lies. There are tense scenes with Nina and the poisonous undertones at the dinner table, and these moments are contrasted with petulance and stone silence from Andrei’s mistress. With Alla pressuring Andrei for marriage, Nina unable to believe Andrei’s pathetic lies, and his publisher warning him to “stop chasing women,” the tense domestic situation reaches a crescendo.

Autumn Marathon is an enjoyable look at a very familiar story. Andrei, who is unhappy with either his wife or his existence, finds some solace in the arms of his mistress, and yet he’s loath to take the final step of breaking away from Nina completely and seeking a divorce. One of the funniest scenes takes place when Alla produces an expensive jacket that she insists Andrei wear home because she wants him to look “modern.” He explains that he cannot just show up in his apartment in a brand new jacket as his wife will be suspicious. Andrei is nagged into accepting the jacket and then must suffer the consequences when Nina sets eyes on it.

One of the interesting things about Autumn Marathon is while the film is ostensibly about a love triangle, the plot shows that the affair is just a symptom of Andrei’s characters flaws. Andrei’s biggest underlying problem is that he’s a push over, and it’s because of this huge character flaw that Andrei finds himself in a state of limbo, unable to make a decision and stuck between Nina and Alla. This character flaw is explored by views of Andrei’s other relationships–relationships in which he cannot set boundaries. Pushy obnoxious neighbour Vasili (Evgeni Leonov), a man who insists that Andrei & Bill go mushroom gathering manages to cause immense trouble with a bottle of vodka. And then there’s a fired teacher, Varvara (Galina Volchek), a woman who begs for Andrei’s help. Andrei cannot refuse Varvara–the word No does not exist in his vocabulary. And this relationship with Varvara brings the final blow to Andrei’s life. This is not a relatively simple matter of  a man who cannot chose between two women–Andrei is a man who cannot decide anything.  His life is totally out of control and under assault from forces that he is unable to harness. From director Georgi Daneliy

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Sidewalks of New York (2001)

“We’ll put that romantic crap to bed for once and for all.”

It’s impossible to watch Sidewalks of New York without realizing that the film is either a homage to, or derivative of, Woody Allen. But that doesn’t make Sidewalks of New York a bad film, and if you’re a Woody Allen fan, you may find yourself enjoying the film more than you thought.

sidewalks of new yorkSimilar to Woody Allen’s brilliantly funny Husbands and Wives, Sidewalks of New York also examines male-female relationships, infidelity, and marriage through a handful of characters. And as in Husbands and Wives, during Sidewalks of New York, from actor/writer/ director Edward Burns, scenes also segue to interviews in which the characters are asked key questions regrading their personal relationships and their attitudes towards sex, love and relationships.

Sidewalks of New York begins with Tommy (Edward Burns) engaged in an argument with his girlfriend. After being thrown out, he moves in temporarily with middle-aged Lothario, Uncle Carpo (Dennis Farina) and then tries to find a new apartment. He uses real estate agent Annie (Heather Graham) who’s married to cheating dentist Griffin (Stanley Tucci). Griffin’s self-confessed “European attitude to marriage” has him in an affair with scrappy waitress Ashley (Brittany Murphy). Ashley is doggedly pursued by doorman/future rockstar Ben (David Krumholtz). Ben was married to teacher, Maria (Rosario Dawson).

The interconnected relationships between these careening characters are explored with humour, but honestly Dennis Farina as Uncle Carpo steals the film, with Stanley Tucci coming in as a close second. The all-too brief scenes with Farina are hilarious. Carpo’s advice to the love-lorn Tommy: “Nothing heals a broken heart like a brand new piece of boodie”  is enough to screw up a man for the rest of his life, for while Carpo thinks he knows all about women, his approach to women might have worked in the 50s but it’s too out-of-style to work in the 21st century:

“I’m an animal. I’m twice as vital as any married man 1/2 my age. I’ve had sex with with over 500 women, and I’ve left them all baying at the moon.”

The weakest part of the film is Maria’s relationship (such as it is) with Tommy. She is the sketchiest drawn character of the lot. Heather Graham just doesn’t cut it as Griffin’s wife, and since she is a main character, this is unfortunate. Here as Annie, she delivers her lines to Griffin with a little smile that sometimes just seems out of place, but she seems much more at ease in her scenes with Burns.

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Husbands and Wives (1992)

“I’ve always had this penchant for what I call Kamikaze women….I call them Kamikaze because they crash their plane into you. You die with them.”

The film  Husbands and Wives, Woody Allen’s brilliantly funny examination of marriage, begins with married couple Professor Gabe Roth (Woody Allen) and his wife Judy (Mia Farrow) engaged in a low-level bicker right before their friends Sally (Judy Davis) and Jack (Sydney Pollack) arrive for the evening. The two couples plan a night out enjoying each other’s company over dinner, but before they leave for the restaurant, Sally has an “announcement.” With a sort of subdued excitement, Sally tells Gabe and Judy that she and Jack are going to separate.

Husbands and wivesSally’s announcement is delivered with the same sort of emotion you’d expect if this couple had made a decision to go on holiday in the Bahamas rather than their usual destination. While Judy is devastated by the news, which to her seems irrational and enitrely unexpected, Gabe is suprised but content to accept Jack’s statement that it’s “no big deal.” The news is so unsettling to Judy that the evening is entirely spoiled.

Sally and Jack’s announcement of a separation kick starts the rest of this very funny film. While the tightly-coiled Sally claims to look forward to being single, she becomes the date-from-hell when she discovers that Jack has had a woman on the side for some time, and that he’s now living with his bimbo aerobics instructor, Sam (Lysette Anthony).  Judy fixes up Sally with the lonely office bachelor Michael Gates (Liam Neeson), a man who’s just broken up with his long-term girlfriend. And added to the pot is Gabe’s young student, Rain (Juliette Lewis) whose short story “Oral Sex in the Age of Deconstruction” gets his attention.

The film follows Sally’s dating adventures, and Jack’s ‘relaxed’ new life with his aerobics instructor, while in the meantime Gabe and Judy’s marriage dives into the slow-burn of decay and disintegration. Gabe and Judy engage in night-long bickering that begins innocently enough with pointed questions tossed like javelins, and these sometimes esoteric questions devolve into accusations as the night wears on.

As the characters pursue each other in a sort of A Midsummer Night’s Dream compendium of unsuitability, shrewish, sour Sally dates the needy Michael, Jack watches inane comedies with airhead Sam, and Gabe wonders if Rain will be his next kamikaze woman.

Filmed in a semi-documentary style, the drama is intersected with interviews conducted with each of the subjects as they answer questions or render their version of events. Woody Allen’s savvy and often merciless approach to marriage captures all the subtle nuances–denial, avoidance, projection, and sex as a tool to dance around so many other issues. Judy’s ex-husband even makes a few appearances in interview slices as he recalls Judy’s passive-aggressive behaviour and while he argues that she “gets what she wants,” we see it happen through flashback encounters with Gabe and in a passionate argument with Michael.

Crimes and Misdemeanors is my favourite Woody Allen film, but Husbands and Wives comes a very close second. Marriages are impenetrable to outsiders, and each marriage has its own rules of play–often unspoken and barely understood by its participants, but in Husbands and Wives Woody Allen’s wit and intelligence effectively dissects the hellish dynamics of two very different relationships. From any other director, Husbands and Wives would be just another drama, but Woody Allen constructs two very believable marriages and then tears them apart with his usual inimitable style.

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Nest of the Gentry (1969)

“Is it true that I’m home at last?”

The Soviet film,  A Nest of the Gentry (Dvoryanskoe Gnezdo) is based on the novel by Ivan Turgenev. It’s the story of the return home of disillusioned Lavretsky (Leonid Kulagin) after he separates from his wife, Varvara (Beata Tyszkiewicz) in Paris. While the beautiful, elegant Varvara is the toast of Paris, Lavretsky is sadly out-of-place in the salon society, and after learning of his wife’s affair with another man, Lavretsky decided to return to his country estate in Russia. During his long absence, the estate has fallen into a state of decay, and during the film’s first scenes, Lavretsky wanders through the house with a loyal serf by his side. Everywhere he looks, things are falling apart–from the broken frames of portraits to the cobwebs flung across unused rooms.

nest of the gentryLavretsky has returned to the refuge of his long-unappreciated estate to “plough the land” and he very soon reconnects with long-time acquaintances–the Kalitins. The oldest girl of the family, Liza (Irina Kupchenko), catches his eye, but she already has a suitor, the dilettante Panshin (Viktor Sergachyov), a government official who comes by to lay siege to Liza on a daily basis. Liza’s mother encourages the match, and it’s one of those situations where the mother is enamoured with the daughter’s beau and arranges the match through a sort of thwarted desire. Liza, who’s a deeply religious girl, is ambivalent about Panshin, but not rebellious enough to openly disobey her mother’s wish. So it seems as though the match will take place as Panshin’s courtship extends through the long summer days.

Lavretsky’s arrival upsets all these matchmaking plans, and as he continues to visits the Kalitins, he falls in love with Liza and his feelings are reciprocated. Lavretsky is tied in marriage, but then the news comes that his wife is dead….

The film includes flashbacks of Lavretsky’s life in Paris, although his wife is a screaming success in the salons of Paris, Lavretsky seems out-of-place, superfluous, and even in the way as Varvara glitters and glides through the elegant company. But somehow Lavretsky is equally out of place in his dilapidated country estate.

Nest of the Gentry is a difficult novel to translate to the screen as a large portion of the novel is spent explaining Lavretsky’s background and his hideous education at the hands of his “anglomaniac” father. While Turgenev’s novel explains the idea of the ‘superfluous man’–an upper class man divorced from Russian culture, these portions of the novel are mostly absent from the film, and that’s unfortunate as these sections underscore the Russian upper class divorcement from their own culture. Lavretsky’s background, and the fact that his mother was a serf is only briefly mention. Several scenes, however, underscore the idea of French decadence and artificiality in direct contrast to the gorgeous summer scenes in the Russian countryside. There’s one great scene of the idle rich lounge by the river’s edge while in the background serfs sing as they slave on the estate.

The film is also quite gentle in its treatment of Panshin, and while the novel spends pages on Panshin’s egoism, the film, apart from sticking Panshin in the clothes of a dandy, doesn’t address his character or his desire to ‘westernize” Russia.

The film also ends inconclusively, and somewhat unsatisfyingly with the characters’ fates still up in the air. Those complaints aside, Nest of the Gentry is a gorgeous adaptation that should please fans of Russian literature and/or Soviet cinema, but a mini series format would perhaps effectively capture the details of the novel that this film missed. From director Andrei Konchal

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Therese Raquin (1980)

“Everything…as always.”

Zola is one of my all-time favourite authors, so when I saw this British television production of Therese Raquin from 1980, I had high expectations. The 60s-70s saw some of the very best BBC adaptations of classic novels–Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Zola’s Nana, Casanova (from his memoirs), and now I’ll add Therese Raquin to the extended list. This is a superb adaptation, and if you are into Zola, period drama, or British television, do yourself a favour, grab this 2-disc set, and prepare yourself for some fabulous viewing.

thereseWhen the film begins, Therese Raquin (Kate Nelligan) is a young married woman, wed to her dull, child-like cousin, Camille (Kenneth Cranham). They live with his mother, the very solid, very reliable and steady Madame Raquin (Mona Washbourne)–a woman who tends to coddle her only child Camille so much that it’s impossible to tell if he’s really sickly or if he’s just been indoctrinated to think he’s a semi-invalid. Madame Raquin runs a small shop, with Therese helping, and Camille works elsewhere as a clerk. The three live above the shop, in modest but stable circumstances.

Life for the Raquins has an established routine, and it’s a routine that Madame Raquin and Camille enjoy. Each Thursday evening, is ‘domino night’ and old friends Olivier Michaud (Philip Bowen), his wife Suzanne (Jenny Galloway), Michaud’s father (Richard Pearson), and Grivet (Timothy Bateson) gather to play dominos for a few sous while they enjoy each other’s company. The predictability of these evenings plays out with the same script every week, and everyone except Therese enjoys the time spent with these old friends. She’s so bored, she’s stupefied.

And then one-time artist, now petty clerk Laurent Leclaire (Brian Cox) enters the picture. There are hints dropped that Laurent is a weak, dissolute character as he failed to finish his legal studies and instead pursued a career as an artist with the necessary accoutrement of naked models. But with little talent, he now works as a minor clerk. Laurent immediately recognizes and is fascinated by Therese’s latent sexuality, and to Therese, the debonair Laurent seems different and exciting. Therese’s sexual awakening stirs dark passions, and Laurent, who initially visits the Raquins for free meals, becomes obsessed with his best friend’s wife. Drawn to each other, they indulge in an addictive, passionate, and explosive adulterous affair but find their moments of passion severely crimped by Therese’s oppressive home life and Laurent’s penury. Soon they hatch a plot to murder Camille.

Therese cannily understands that the small social group that convenes every Thursday is interested in continuing the predictable social pattern above all else, and she schemes to turn this to her advantage. Unfortunately the tedium of Therese’s suffocating life is not alleviated by the exchange of men. The Thursday evenings, which take place with boring regularity, but are supposed to represent the highlight of the Raquins’ social life, are so intricately rendered that even boring takes on a fascinating aspect. It takes a great deal of skill to replicate boring and make it interesting but this is achieved in this splendid production. Similarly, the abject poverty of Laurent’s life is underscored in just a couple of scenes. While the Raquins have a very small modest, lifestyle, they seem positively rolling in money when we see the reality of Laurent’s horrible life in a frozen, filthy garret.

Each stage of this fascinating, painful and sometimes horribly cruel story is executed upon the stage with precision and perfection. There’s Therese and Laurent’s passionate explosive affair–a phase in which these two characters fuel each other’s impatience and sexual appetite, dragging everyone else into the inferno. And then there’s the aftermath, the recriminations, the guilt, the self-loathing and the latent cruelty that spills out onto poor Madame Raquin. And in the meantime the domino evenings become a hypocritical travesty, a painful pantomime.

This is an exquisite riveting production with top-notch acting blended with Zola’s understanding of human nature. From the highs and lows of passion to the abject cruelty and inhumanity that plays out in the Raquins’ household, this is a feast for Zola fans. Keep your eyes open for Alan Rickman in a fairly small role.

Now if someone would just release the 1968 BBC version of Nana on DVD….

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