Pillow talk

“The missionary?” <br>“No, me on top.”

“The missionary?”
“No, me on top.”

Rated 4.0

“It was a pornographic affair,” explains a nameless, willowy woman at the beginning of An Affair of Love. She (Nathalie Baye) was between companions and wanted to act out a sexual fantasy with a male stranger. He (Sergi López) was happy to become her curious accomplice.

The pair began meeting at a café for a drink before segueing to a nearby hotel for bouts of carnal congress where the rules were implied: no names, no ages, no professions. The rendezvous were meant to provide an oasis of desire and physical pleasure. But the deceptively simple plan was soon complicated by those ever-seeping human feelings and analyses that never seem to hinder the clockwork fornication of the animal kingdom.

This intriguing, unconventional French romance from Belgian-born director Frédéric Fonteyne is an intimately dramatic He Said, She Said with elements reminiscent of 1973’s notorious Last Tango in Paris. The film interweaves pseudo-documentary interviews of the two lovers with dramatized flashbacks of their close encounters. The lovers disagree on some of the details of their relationship (for example, she says they met online, he says through her magazine ad), but neither will discuss the kinky sex that first brought them together.

Fonteyne doesn’t show the initial sex either. If there’s any application of butter in this Tango-like relationship, it’s discreetly kept off camera. When we follow the lovers to their cool-blue hotel room during their first tryst, the door is slowly shut in our face and our imagination is left to run rampant in a long, velvety-red hallway that reeks of limitless whorehouse depravity.

By the time we witness one of these weekly unions of flesh, She has suggested they assume a less exotic position. “The missionary?” he inquires. “No, me on top,” she says. Then she talks all the while they pursue the “total osmosis” of simultaneous orgasm, for this love-shack tale of rudderless middle age and fear of commitment is actually more of a chatfest than a grope-a-thon.

The script by Philippe Blasband is both credible and candid. He sets up the film’s themes of seduction, sexual tension and the fallout of first impressions with little fanfare, quietly stirs up their flames, and develops a sort of inverse Hollywood universe in which emphasis is placed on climbing into people’s heads rather than between their sheets. He unfolds personal history in strategic waves and then allows the decayed marital life of an elderly couple to invade his characters’ Ivory Tower and add a new wrinkle to their blossoming, blushing bliss. Fonteyne is game and complements Blasband’s provocative interludes with the most erotic and risky lovemaking scenes of the year.

Baye (The Return of Martin Guerre) and López have just the right chemistry to make the film work on both physical and intellectual levels. Baye is captivating as she sifts through her thoughts with the anonymous interviewer or attempts to peel back her layers of budding confusion as her taste for pleasures of the flesh mushrooms into an emotional bond with a newfound friend. López is the film’s romantic anchor and optimist, a decent sort of man with a warm smile who has kept a copy of the magazine (in a see-through protective wrap) in which the personals ad that began their coupling first appeared.

Originally titled Une Liaison Pornographique, the spare 80-minute An Affair of Love is a study in relationships that ends in a series of pronouncements, misreads and a general lack of clarification between two floundering souls. The couple here rely on their own instinct to make major life-changing decisions and, for all their gabbing and introspection, come off as being either clueless and pathetic or brave explorers who lose their way, depending on your inclination. The film wonders aloud if you can really get to know someone else when most of us don’t really know ourselves and then plants the seed that maybe we are more often the victims of our own undoing rather than of external forces and circumstance.