Matthew Lickona 4 p.m., Feb. 17
An Affair of Love
Dull title, and for good reason. That's not the title. The title in the original French, the title spelled out on screen, is Une Liaison Pornographique, no translation necessary. (Maybe an explanation of "irony" is necessary.) The film itself, concerning a pair of perfect strangers who meet through the Classifieds for the express purpose of fulfilling one another's sexual fantasies and who can't help but develop a deeper relationship, is nothing much to get excited about, pruriently or otherwise. We are kept in the dark -- or more precisely, outside the hotel-room door -- with regard to the exact nature of the sexual fantasies, though we are admitted to the room once they decide to make love "normally." This scene, while discreet in its camera placements and frugal with its flesh, is something pretty special among sex scenes: intense, sensuous, well-sustained, expressively yet not exhibitionistically acted. There is another pretty special one in a bathtub later on. And, after a long absence from American screens, it is nice to see Nathalie Baye again, as graceful and subtle as before, even though (if you get the hint) a little tighter in the face and Orientalized around the eyes. And the Spaniard Sergi Lopez, if not so graceful or subtle, is nice, too, when his facial expressions do not too forcefully bring to mind those of Robin Williams, as the slightly hesitant, awkward, blocky, but sensitive lover. The whole thing, however, feels rather concocted, contrived, laboratory-controlled; and filmmaker Frédéric Fonteyne tends to wear his sophistication on his sleeve; and the pseudodocumentary narrative device of an off-screen interviewer, guiding the two principals into flashbacks, is nonsensical in addition to lazy. The two principals make it quite clear that they do not even know each other's names, addresses, or phone numbers -- so, how and where would a documentarist/interviewer have come into it? Next question: why would he have wanted to? 1999.