Your cheating heart
October 25, 2002
Virtually every movie I see these days involves romantic infidelity to one degree or another. It’s to the point where I can’t ignore the issue.”Just A Kiss,” which screened at Aspen Filmfest last month and is coming to the Wheeler Opera House next month, was a bitingly dark comedy about sleeping around and the consequences thereof. “Tattoo, a love story,” another Filmfest feature, was about a near-perfect woman cheating on her near-perfect boyfriend with a far-from-perfect biker/tattoo artist. In “One Hour Photo,” the creepy study of a lonely sociopath, it is an adulterous affair that sets Robin Williams’ character off. “13 Conversations About One Thing,” a complex movie centered around the theme of happiness, includes among its several intertwined stories a sequence about a man who has an extramarital relationship to shake up his life. Those are four of the last five new films I’ve seen, and we’ll get to the fifth in a minute.The thematic thread of infidelity got me wondering if this was a recent trend, or whether it was just amazing coincidence in the films I happened to see. My mind flashed back to some great films, and the first three that leaped to mind ? “The Graduate,” “The Godfather” and “Pulp Fiction” ? all had significant scenes regarding someone having sex, or something very close to it, with someone they were not supposed to have sex with. I moved on to my filmmaking idol, Woody Allen, and realized something I had not before: almost all of my favorite Woody Allen films ? “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” Broadway Danny Rose,” “Hannah & Her Sisters,” “Crimes & Misdemeanors,” “Husbands & Wives,” “Mighty Aphrodite” ? had romantic infidelity as a strong element.Why filmmakers continuously use the plot device of cheating spouses isn’t tough to figure. Sexual infidelity contains all the elements that makes movies appealing: passion, drama, introspection, fear, the potential for violence. By its nature, cheating involves a multitude of characters, all playing against one another, which makes for a good story. Cheating brings up so much emotional material ? inadequacies, intimacy, suspicion, vengeance ? that there is much for filmgoers to relate to. And, of course, there is the matter that many real people do cheat on their spouses or partners, which makes the issue relevant in a whole other way. ***Little surprise, then, that when I watched the French comic drama “My Wife Is An Actress,” which shows at the Wheeler Sunday through Wednesday, Oct. 27-30, it turned out to be a film about marital infidelity (and circumcision, but more on that later).Yvan ? played by Yvan Attal, who also wrote and directed “My Wife Is An Actress” ? is married to the popular, adorable actress Charlotte (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter of French singer Serge Gainsbourg). While for most ordinary folks, the idea of being married to an attractive movie star is the stuff of sweet dreams, Yvan has seen the downside of the fantasy. On the streets and in restaurants, fans beg for autographs from Charlotte and pay no attention to Yvan. Yvan’s inadequacies are further shoved in his face when he calls a restaurant for a reservation: He is told there is not table available until midnight; when Charlotte takes the phone, the restaurant can seat her at 9 p.m. It all wears on Yvan, who decides that all actresses are crazy, and a man who marries one even more so.In one of the funnier scenes, an acquaintance, Georges, pesters Yvan, wanting to know what it’s like to be married to an actress. Yvan isn’t sure how to take the question, so the intruder makes it more explicit: What’s it like watching your wife kiss and have sex with other men? Yvan explains, as if to a child, that it isn’t real, that his wife is only acting; that the actors aren’t really making love. Georges persists, to the point of obnoxiousness, “Because I’m intrigued.” Finally, Yvan clocks him in the face.The issues Georges raises couldn’t come at a worse time: Charlotte has left Paris to shoot a film in London. Her co-star is John (Terence Stamp), an older actor who still makes the young girls swoon and has a notorious reputation as a womanizer. Charlotte has hardly arrived on the set when John begins his flirtations: making sketches of her, asking her out for drinks, telling her of his marriage that has long lost its luster. When Yvan visits Charlotte in London, things go from bad to worse. Yvan walks onto a set where everyone, from actors to cameramen to assistants, is naked, confirming his belief that the filmmaking world is depraved. (Ironically, and unknown to Yvan, the naked set was an accommodation to Charlotte and her discomfort with the sex scene she was appearing in.) On another surprise visit, after a troubling phone conversation with Charlotte, Yvan walks into her trailer to find his wife alone with John. The accusations fly, and Yvan’s insecurities practically force Charlotte into defending John and, eventually, confessing an attraction to her co-star. Yvan returns to Paris by train; along the way, he has a comically inept scene when he tries to reassure another man who has had the misfortune to marry a stunning actress.Back in Paris, Yvan has the grand idea to take acting lessons, in an effort to better understand his wife’s world. It works even better than he figured: Yvan, a soccer journalist with little taste for the arts, turns out to have a gift for acting. One of his fellow acting students develops a crush on him as they act out love scenes. Yvan begins to gain some insight into the nature of acting. Is acting really acting, or is it pretending to pretend? Do actors conjure fake emotions, or do they actually become the characters they are portraying? Those questions are addressed, but not probed in too deep a way. “My Wife Is An Actress” is more likable for the lighter touch with which it handles marital fears and insecurities. The film has a Woody Allen quality to it, with Yvan the actor giving Yvan the character a frantic, physical quality borne of insecurities. In the movie’s suddenly sweet ending, there is also the echo of Allen’s “Hannah & Her Sisters.”And, in the production notes, Attal gives Allen further credit for “My Wife Is An Actress.” Attal says he got the idea from Woody Allen of taking two separate stories that had been in his mind and putting them together in one film. The second story in Attal’s film is about Yvan’s pregnant sister Nathalie, who is at odds with her husband over whether their child, should it be a boy, will be circumcised. Attal fits the second story nicely into the first, making the point that all marriages, whether they involve an actress or nor, have their challenges.A final note: It is no coincidence that Yvan Attal and Charlotte Gainsbourg play characters who share their respective names. Attal and Gainsbourg are, indeed, a married couple. But “My Wife Is An Actress” never feels like autobiography. There are no telltale moments of severe introspection or revealing details. With its comic overtones, the on-screen chemistry between the two doesn’t have the feel of actors who know one another intimately. I only learned of the off-screen relationship when I read the production notes, days after seeing the film.