Ilana Mercer, May 22, 2002

There are doubtless some good, general reasons to be partial to the appeal of foreign men. From my perspective, American men don’t always get the British-type barb or quip. They can become tiresomely preachy, often launching a maudlin mouthful over my kind of expressive excesses. Being understood is nothing to sneeze at. Which is why I’d be sympathetic if the lust the libidinous wife in the film “Unfaithful” develops for the more-relaxed continental man were due to a lack of understanding or tenderness from her spouse. It isn’t. So, try as I did, I could not quite grasp her dangerous obsession. Besides which, women’s desire for muscle-bound hunks is a curiosity to me, who thinks most sexual activity occurs in the mind.

The lover in “Unfaithful” is a coital cliché. For one, he is French, with all the grating affectations. By casting him as an antiquarian book-dealer, the improbable inference is that Lover is both literate and super stud. Yeah, right. One of Lover’s moves is to direct our enchantress to his Seduction Shelf, from which she is instructed to select and read some gibberish. The charm works! The almost-unfaithful wife is so impressed that, as soon as she gets a break from her grueling routine, she rushes back to the quaint, typecast Soho apartment to consummate the relationship.

I liked Diane Lane in the role of Constance Sumner, the cheating spouse. She has an absolutely smashing figure, which I easily forgave, given that she has quite a few more facial wrinkles than I do. As convincing as her sexual delirium was, Lane, who plays opposite Richard Gere as Ed in the role of husband, and underneath—or wrapped around—Olivier Martinez in the role of Paul Martel the lover, cannot escape the stigma of bored, rich, and beautiful.

In one of his books, author Tom Robbins expressed a hilarious, existential disappointment over the fact that the sexual act is something everyone can perform: an act capable of conveying the highest of human emotion is within the grasp of all and sundry! My way around this paradox is to venture that sex devoid of love is reserved for the wild animal and the gay man. To the extent that this is the sex people choose, they are no better than the beast or the gay man. The problem is that marriage itself often breeds some pretty unelevated emotions, the outcome of which is legal but loveless sex. Was this the dilemma facing the wife in director Adrian Lyne’s latest film? Although the original incarnation of the film, Claude Chabrol’s 1969 “La Femme Infidele,” did showcase some relational and emotional nuance with which to flesh out the pure-flesh portions, Lyne’s very-much-Hollywood re-make offers none of that. There is not as much as a hint of marital discord to fuel the affair. Rather, what we get is confined to raunchy make-out sessions—sex in Hollywood retains the quality of a Cirque du Soleil performance: aesthetic, athletic, and that’s that.

Lyne’s oeuvre includes “Fatal Attraction,” “Indecent Proposal,” and “9 1/2 Weeks.” In 1998, Lyne was almost caught in flagrante delicto with his “Lolita,” the celluloid adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s great novel about a man’s affair with his 12-year-old stepdaughter. “Lolita” is likely to become the least-touted work in the director’s repertoire, given the apoplexy over creating any untoward images of Our Children, and given the alleged sexual contagion in the Catholic Church.

“Unfaithful” has the usual annoying build-up accoutrements intended to convey a regular life. Audience is expected to coo over “cute” kid who pees on the toilet seat, as well as over father-husband who is wooden but warm. Audience is expected to find gorgeous woman homely—rather than unhygienic—because she takes chewing gum from cute kid’s mouth and places it in hers.

During The Murder, the culprit’s state of mind conjured the murder scene in Albert Camus’ 1942 book, The Stranger. Then again, I may have just reached a point in this glitzy flick where my mind hankered for inspiration:

… all the sweat that had gathered in my eyebrows suddenly ran down over my eyelids, covering them with a dense layer of warm moisture … That was when everything shook … I realized that I’d destroyed the balance of the day and the perfect silence of this beach where I’d been happy.

Indeed, murder is never a good idea, as Oscar Wilde reminded: Don’t do anything you can’t discuss over dinner (settle down, he was kidding). Of this, the director, who apparently went back and forth before deciding on a suitable finale, is not as convinced. Lane settled on a morally inconclusive end. How French!



May 22, 2002


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