PORTRAIT OF A FILM CRITIC AS A MERE SPECTATOR IN THE CROWD
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
After four years of attending the festival screening orgy that is the Toronto International Film Festival – which I’m eagerly anticipating returning to once again in September (for you … remember, I do this all for you, dear readers) – the decision to attend the Munich Film Festival seemed curious. Ostensibly, Munich made sense because it is one of the International Sister Cities to Cincinnati and has the longest-standing film festival, but besides the Sister City angle, what would be the point of going, especially from a coverage perspective?
With far fewer titles in play (the Munich catalogue – the size of an average-sized coffee table book – contains over 200 films) than Toronto, the challenge here was trickier and yet far more manageable. Instead of feverishly running from movie house to movie house for five, six or possibly even seven films in a day, I could relax, leisurely taking in 2-4 movies, while enjoying the pleasures of my first European adventure.
What I discovered is the smaller sample size meant I ended up learning a surprising bit about myself, based on my choices. A theme emerged. Unbeknownst to me, I curated a multi-faceted look at the state of modern affairs. I seemingly arrived in Europe with infidelity on the brain. It should be noted that I am a happily married man (I’m not just saying that because my wife is reading either). I love my wife; unlike in the movies, I don’t have to “think” about it, I do. But film provides an escape, right? So, I watched couples in crisis and in search of fleeting ecstasy.
Right off the bat, I entered “The Blue Room” with Mathieu Amalric as a husband testifying about the tragedy of his adulterous encounters with a former lover. It is traditional stuff: passion and exploration missing in his relationship with his wife. His lover bites, literally, drawing first blood. She is like a shark with that scent driving her and he has no idea what dangers lie ahead.
Next, another French film (“Ein Augenblick Liebe,” “Quantum Love,” loosely translated from the German), which plays visual tricks with time and circumstance as two people meet and meet again, flirting and teasing their way into the inevitable fall together. The difference here was a lack of English subtitles, so I went in doubly blind. I don’t speak French or read German, so all I could do was watch the interplay and glean contextual clues where possible. It was fascinating to observe physical performance as a primary means of communication. Scriptwriters will swear the words tell the tale, but oh how actors can transform truth into a lie, if we can’t believe the bodies in motion. Let me say, I most certainly did end up believing in “Quantum Love.”
Speaking of lies, “Lügen,” a German title, was all about the lies we tell, both small and big, as well as the things left unspoken. At its heart, the film attempts to head off an affair before it starts, as a woman on the verge of marriage studies every single behavioral hint in her intended to make sure he won’t cheat. In the end, she learns far more about herself and her own feelings.
A game changer, in terms of sexual identity and infidelity, “Unexpected,” another German production, strikingly contrasts the traditional (a husband cheating with a younger lover) and something more progressive – a wife’s dawning realization that she’s in love with a woman who happens to be marrying a friend and former lover. There is an ebb and flow to the proceedings that mimics the wife’s morphing identity. “Unexpected” allowed me to drift, slip free from the critical analysis for a time and simply live in this moment. Rarely do I get the chance to cheat and let a movie be just a movie. It was a delicious and savory treat.