Unhappily Ever After

Adrian Lynes fatal attractions

In Lyne's world, the body is more than a prison, it's a veritable penal colony through which men and women are condemned to reenact the Fall every time they have one too many drinks, as in Fatal Attraction, or get a bit too greedy, as in Indecent Proposal. In Unfaithful, Connie's mostly bored, and to judge by her sepulchral domesticity, it's no wonder. Lyne's sympathies initially seem to be with Connie: Lane is incredibly moving in the role, and she wills the character to depths that remain unarticulated in Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr.'s screenplay. The first time Connie sleeps with Paul, Lane's body trembles with a violence that's shockingly, almost embarrassingly, naked. We see the lovers' encounter not as it happens but somewhat after the fact, as Connie sits on the train back home, weeping and laughing to herself, her body knotted with emotion as she remembers the sex. It's by far the best work with an actor that Lyne has ever done. Which makes it all the more frustrating when Lyne not only loses interest in Connie, but also trades in his evident sympathy with the lovers for the sort of moral posturing that always finds him selling out his favorite characters.

Lyne is a shabby moralist. He not only sells his characters out, he sells out his own point of view, which is why, while he sympathizes with Connie, he cuts her loose. This isn't the first time he's done that, but never before has a film gone as flat when he did. What's curious about Unfaithful is just how little it pops; it's as if Lyne had become so self-conscious about having based it on the work of a serious filmmaker, on Claude Chabrol's 1969 La Femme Infidèle, that he decided to tone down his go-for-the-jugular instincts for something more grown-up, and staid. Throughout Unfaithful, you can feel Lyne trying to be less Lyne-like, which is the wrong tack since what gives his films oomph is crude sensations, not ideas. Like Chabrol, Lyne has an interest in the emotional geography of infidelity, but unlike the French director, he isn't a sophisticated thinker, and he can't help but pass judgment on his characters, especially the women. The wife in Chabrol's film is a mystery—and as expressionless as a corpse—because her motivations are irrelevant to how the betrayal affects her husband. In both films, the husband's actions are terrible and finally, in a perverse way, both rational and moral. Yet only in the Chabrol does the wife maintain her innocence, however eccentric (and French). In Unfaithful, the wife falls—and stays fallen. Lyne's women are consistently more vibrant than his men, yet if he loves women in his own way, and I think he does, there's a part of him that always wants to punish and humiliate them as well. If he liked women as much as he loved them, then it might be easier to take Lyne as seriously as he seems to take himself.

Unfaithful directed by Adrian Lyne; written by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr., based on thefilm La Femme Infidèle by Claude Chabrol; produced by Lyne and G. Mac Brown; and stars Diane Lane and Richard Gere. Now playing countywide.

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