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Film Review: “The Affair” Lacks Purpose

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 5th, 2021

Film poster: “The Affair”

The Affair (Julius Sevcík, 2019) 1½ out of 4 stars.

Based on Simon Mawer’s 2009 novel The Glass Room, the Czech film The Affair would have done better to keep its original title (the same as that of the source material), rather than adopting this generic replacement. All the new appellation offers is a reminder of how little inspires here. We’ve seen countless tales of World War II, the holocaust, genocide, displacement and return. There has even been at least one other with a lesbian-themed plot. No amount of fine acting can enliven this inert bit of would-be cinematic business. Though even that is marred by the fact that everyone inexplicably performs in English, and some are better at it than others. In all, despite occasional flourishes, this affair goes nowhere.

It’s the 1930s in Bohemia, and Viktor (Claes Bang, The Square) and Liesel (Hanna Alström, Kingsman: The Secret Service) are a newlywed couple, he Jewish, she not. They are well off, and build an impressive new mansion with the (formerly) titular space, becoming almost intimately involved with the architect as they do. In fact, Liesel has her best friend, Hana (also with a Jew husband), throw herself into the mix, thereby deflecting the unwanted advances. An obliging sort, Hana (Carice van Houten, Domino) really has her eye on Liesel, however, and every time they are alone together attempts a seduction, of sorts. Though Liesel never gives in, they remain bosom companions. The years go by, Liesel and Viktor growing their family, until the inevitable happens with the rise of the Nazis in next-door Germany.

l-r: Carice van Houten and Hanna Alström in THE AFFAIR ©Vertical Entertainment

Eventually, after a series of harrowing misadventures, close calls and actual tragedies, Hana and Liesel find themselves separated, at first by a few borders and then a wide ocean, remaining apart until the Prague Spring of 1968. Time flows briskly and inexorably forward in The Affair, though not always to the benefit of character development and narrative coherence. At the center of it all is the house with the “glass room,” though it is never clear why this structure need bear such importance to the plot. After all, if the dramatic trajectory is towards Liesel and Hana’s eventual reuniting, why bother with a home that was built with Viktor at least partly in mind? He even had an affair of his own in that very house. Whose story is it? That is the muddled question.

Nazis come and go, then the communists arrive. One authoritarian regime is much the same as the other (minus the genocidal tendencies). Sapphic love is welcome nowhere, though as Soviet tanks bear down on Czechoslovakia, somehow that is the moment for its late-in-life fruition. Hearts swell, bodies writhe. Was the World War II setting just period window dressing? Seems that way, for none of the deaths really matter. And given the final shot of the movie, strangely set in the by-now infamous chamber, apparently neither do Liesel and Hana, either. At least there is surface beauty, revealed in all its glory at the end, but not much else.

Claes Bang in THE AFFAIR ©Vertical Entertainment
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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