Friday, February 07, 2014

"AN AFFAIR OF LOVE": the Eros of Hotels

“AN AFFAIR OF LOVE” is a French movie, named more frankly,  “Un Liason Pornographique” 1999.  

Roger Ebert’s review is accurate.   The trailer for the movie is not.  If you’re looking for porn, the trailer is it -- hyped, naked, inaccurate, out-of-whack, cynical.  The idea of pornography is used in the title as playfully ironic.  Even when the woman in the beginning “interview” says flatly that this is a pornographic story, she is simply wrong.  Americans are too dishonest and sentimental to confront the idea of a straightforward liaison between adults, so it has to be retitled as an “affair.”  It’s not that either.  It is a bargain, an exploration, an experiment.  I will pursue the interview format as follows.

How dare you watch movies like this?

I am 75 years old, almost twice the age of this heroine who realizes that if she ever hopes to perform the sexual act she has always wanted to try, it will soon be too late.  I’m not a woman with much experience but I put no limits on what I read, so why limit film?  I’m ordained, trained to counsel for marriage, and settled with my life.  Watching publicly available DVD’s quietly in my own home hardly seems like a stretch.  If not now, when?

Where do you find them?

Once Netflix adds to your algorithm anything it can code as a “type,” it will send you many suggestions of what the machine considers similar.  The trouble is that they don’t code for quality -- just subject.  In the end one has to resort to Google for help, so that’s why I use the titles of books and movies as the titles of my posts.   They’re meant to be found. 

Actually, I was thinking about hotels and remembering meeting for a (platonic) lunch a male high income friend with a secret life who was staying in a “gentleman’s hotel.”   The delicacy and covertness of the staff -- I could not go up to the room, I could not dial the phone, "would madam wait over here?" -- was intriguing.  And then there was the incident when Bob Scriver was on “To Tell the Truth” and I paid for my own room in advance which turned out to be a signal that I was a prostitute.  One stumbles upon things.  So I was looking for movies about hotel liasons.    

What actually happens?

The film begins in an utterly ordinary way:  placing a classified, meeting in a cafe, negotiating payment for the hotel room at the front desk.  The agenda is already agreed upon, so that’s not mentioned.  The woman, on entering the room, makes the familiar gesture of sitting on the edge of the bed and putting out her hand to lean on it as if testing the mattress.  We do not see the undressing.  In fact, we do not see what happens before they emerge, cheerful and matter-of-fact.  Satisfied.  Only later do we stay.

So what DOES happen?

Do you remember the gimmick in “LA Law” about “the butterfly technique” and how it was so erotically stimulating that the short nebbishy guy became a gal magnet?  It was nothing but a writer’s tease.  There is no such thing.  The closest is the elusive “g-spot.”  

Then why watch?

Because soon it becomes clear that these two people have reversed the usual pattern in American culture, which is that people fall in love and then this is the moral legitimacy and, indeed, the key to passionate sex.  I’ve always maintained that if one is close to someone else -- I mean physically close as in sex -- cooperating and succeeding, then one begins to love the other.  One does not love someone because they are beautiful, but rather when one loves someone they BECOME beautiful.  It is how people who have married for convenience or politics become lovers.  Remember this is the core (Cora) event in “Downton Abbey,” that the Earl and his American bride fall in love after years of getting to know each other.  One becomes attuned.

Does anything happen?

An old man who uses the hotel for his trysts with prostitutes attracts their attention by having a heart attack in the hallway, involving them with his unattractive wife, his death, and the news of her suicide.  Ebert sees this as reality intruding and derailing the fantasy.  But I see it as deeper, a return to the idea that life is short and one ought to fulfill one’s desires, but marriage can be bondage.  Sex and death are so often paired.

So they don’t get married and live happily ever after?

That’s not the point.  In fact, it undercuts the whole idea that this is arranged sensibly, destroys no one, simply ends.  No regrets.  No turning back.  A second high quality movie, “28 Hotel Rooms” (American, 2012)  explores the same premise but over a long period of time and much more explicitly.  This second movie does verge on the pornographic but the relationship of the two people and their personalities, interweaving over time, was greeted with contempt by reviewers.  In American terms, relationships are supposed to proceed like religious conversions.  If the parties “lose faith” and simply leave, that’s supposed to invalidate the process.  (The American characters are married to others; the French are not.)

Does this movie or this type of movie address the issue of discretion or even secrecy?

Only in passing, except for the secret of what it was that the woman wanted to do with the man, which is what grabs the viewer with curiosity.   Porn capitalizes on this, knowing that as children there were always tantalizing secrets among adults, esp. parents, and then -- as we realize what those secrets were -- we experience the revelations as joyful or possibly appalling.  (Surely one’s parents don’t do THAT!!)  There is always the desire for the unknown edge being rolled back, and sure enough, there is always a world of the forbidden, the exotic, the unbelievable.  (“Deep Throat”) and then after that curiosity about who would do such things (the story of “Linda Lovelace”).  

This is part of the lure of sex in other cultures, religious cults, secret societies, and so on.  In the interest of commodification, we ransack the lives of the poor, the displaced, the strange -- the “Other.”  What do they DO?  What do they know that we don’t?   Maybe this is at the heart of torture.  It can become cruel.

Why does this issue interest you?

In terms of the larger society, there is a fascination with what the book peddlers are now --  since the success of “Fifty Shades of Gray ”-- calling the “dirty romance” genre.  At bottom, I think these books are exploring sexual ties or at least “bonding”, in hopes of decoding marriage. Any English or French person would know sex is not enough to support generations.  There has to be more: economics, sharing, a larger circle of people, good work to do, some kind of home base, a theory of existence -- what’s it all about in the end?  Prevailing?  Participation?  Virtue?  Desire?  This is the deeper mystery.  Can two people spend a lifetime together?  If you want that, this article may help you feel better.

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