False promise of a forbidden love affair
THE AFFAIR (2021)
Nearly two years ago, a film entitled The Glass Room was released in the Czech Republic. Now, the same film is being released in the United States, but it’s been retitled to The Affair. Why? Well, because regardless of how good or bad anything is, sex sells. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a lot more than the false promise of a forbidden love affair to get people to see it.
The film, directed by Julius Ševčík, is not inherently bad. There are just a lot of things that didn’t work for me. I will say that the direction wasn’t one of those things. Beautifully shot, most of the time The Affair looks and feels like it should be an awards contender. As aesthetically pleasing as it is though, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly evident that the film is just a nice looking object with no real substance beneath the surface.
Based on the novel, The Glass Room, by Simon Mawer, The Affair follows the relationship between two women before, during, and after World War II. If you’re wondering what the titular “Glass Room” is, in the novel it’s a room in a house built for one of the women that becomes an important setting for major fictional and real events. In the film, it’s reduced to a location where the two lead women used to spend time together as friends.
As mentioned before, the film’s title refers to and implies that a forbidden love affair is at the heart of the story.. It’s not though. Without giving too much away, the two women do fall for each other and do eventually have some sort of physical relationship, but that’s really only a fraction of what the film is about. Taking place at around the time of WWII, the film is more about each of the women’s struggle to survive.
Liesel, played by Hanna Alström (The Kingsman franchise), is a recently matriarch who seeks to flee the country in the hopes of a better life for her family. Hana, played Game of Thrones’ very own Carice van Houten, is a teacher whose marriage to a Jewish man keeps her tied to her homeland. Despite feelings for each other, their personal commitments are determined to keep them apart, and that time apart is really what the vast majority of the film follows.
So much of this film is either a political or historical slog. On top of arbitrary time jumps where characters age rapidly from scene to scene, you really never know what’s going to happen next, and not in a good way. One second a child is separated from the family; the next, someone is pleasuring themself underwater. One second a character announces she’s pregnant; the next, a character is seen hanging from a ceiling. There’s literally a sequence where one of the women is trying to buy milk for her child and then bombs start falling from the sky; granted, that did probably happen at some point during World War II, but the way it’s depicted here is ridiculous. There are too many tone deaf twists and turns in this that I think it identifies more as a political thriller than a romantic drama.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Alström and van Houten are good here. I wouldn’t say that they’re Oscar-worthy, but in a film that’s mostly dull they shine. Contrary to how the film is advertised, the two are not touted as sexual objects either. They’re actual characters with actual feelings and emotions. Even though they are both attracted to each other, they are simply presented as two people in love. While they do have sex scenes, there is no nudity and their bodies are never the focus. Instead, during the sex scenes we hear their thoughts in V.O. Once again, it goes against the way the film is marketed, but it’s a creative choice that works and further establishes each of their characters’ dimensions.
Other characters in the film aren’t as fortunate though. For instance, Liesel’s husband is the most inconsistent of the film. He starts as a very devout husband, but then becomes obsessive and sex-crazed after he begins to fall for another woman. While his behavior is entirely possible, the random time jumps only make his transition seem unnatural. Additionally Hana’s husband is never more than, well, her Jewish husband. Throughout the film he’s never referred to as anything more, especially by Hana, so it becomes nearly impossible to care about him, even when the film begs you to at the end.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
In addition to the direction, both the set design and the makeup are the film’s best aspects - the glass room in particular. While it doesn’t play nearly as big of a role here as it does in the novel, the film still romanticizes it to the point that it’s hard not to admire.
Aside from the room though, everything feels incredibly authentic to the times and periods in which the film is set. As much as I loathed the way time jumps around, it’s at least easy to tell that time has passed because of the various changes to our characters hair, makeup, and overall style. The best part about the makeup is that it all looks so natural. Even when the two main characters reach old age, their physical changes look believable.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
For a film without much to say, composer Miroslav Faderholz still manages to speak to the audience through his beautiful score. In my opinion the score is the film’s most compelling aspect because even if you can’t tell what’s happening, you can still feel our characters’ plight.
It’s too ironic that a film entitled The Affair is less faithful to its source material than our main characters are to their loved ones. Nevermind that the title is clickbait meant to capitalize off of the success of other actual same sex period romance dramas (i.e Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Ammonite, etc), it’s also empty Oscar bait. So many larger ideas and themes are introduced beyond than the titular tryst; however, rather than come together cohesively, they remain as a messy entanglement.