Saturday, May 26, 2012

Scheinmann bros' cutting-edge ensemble delight -- THE WEST WITTERING AFFAIR

A good friend of mine, who is also a psychotherapist, once told TrustMovies that any two people could form a successful relation-ship and/or marriage. There were only two necessities: They had to be mature (that is, autonomous) adults, and they had to want the relationship. Granted, that first necessity precludes at least three-quarters of the world's adult population but, still, this is a very interesting concept. It came to mind while TM and his companion were watching a British movie he had only just become aware of -- THE WEST WITTERING AFFAIR -- though it was actually made in 2006 but released solely (and all too briefly) in the U.K. at the end of that year.

The WWA, as I'll now refer to it, is a rom-com set partially in the titular tiny village, located in the West Sussex district of England. The movie features a quartet of smart performers. Later a younger, fifth wheel is added to the group, but for most of the movie it's this foursome that captivates and annoys us (most humorously). As rom-coms go, the movie is light years ahead of most, whether British, American or whatever country of origin. This is due to the diretor, a fellow named David Scheinmann (at left), an evidently well-known British photographer and music--video creator, here helming his first full-length film; to his splendid acting ensemble, who play together like the pros they are; and to the screenwriters (two of this ensemble: the director's brother, Danny Schneimann, and Sarah Sutcliffe).

The actors are all new to me and probably will be to you. All the better, then, to enjoy their novelty, ability and spontaneity. The movie begins by flashing forward and back in time, days and/or weeks before or after West Wittering, as the "event" has evidently come to be referred to. That event turns out to be kind of "date" arranged by one woman (Ms Stucliffe, below, left) to get to better know the young caterer, Jamie (played by Mr. Scheinmann, above) to whom she's become attracted. Another couple has been invited, but only one person, the female half (Rebecca Cardinale, below, right) shows up. Things go both badly and well, depending on how you view them -- which is pretty much true about everything that happens in this movie, consequently giving it such an interesting, "adult" edge.

The four characters, the last of whom is a therapist (played by David Annen, shown at right in the penultimate photo) involved with one of the women, are quite good at sizing up the other three. It's understanding themselves that gives them -- as it gives most of us -- such trouble, while peppering the movie with resonance and pizzazz. There's one other thing that distinguishes the film, but I hesitate to tell you what it is -- because, when I learn that a movie's been made in this manner, I tend to resist it from the outset. This is unfair, particulaly when a film works as well as does The WWA.  (You can learn what this "magical" ingredient is by watching the maybe 15-20 minute interview with the director that appears as a extra on the DVD. Scheinmann comes across as a very smart and intuitive guy, and what he has to say about his movie and how it was made is consistently interesting and vibrant. Listening to this interview (it's all audio, against a photo of the director) added immeasurably to my understanding and enjoyment of the film.)

I don't say this about very many movies, but The West Wittering Affair -- by tracking these characters as they attempt to create viable relationships -- flirts with profundity, even if it does not finally consummate it. But for a rom-com to make us laugh and entertain us so well, while locking us into its stories of these crazy but believable characters, and then make us consider seriously the ways in which our uses of sex and food and romance and loyalty conspire for and against us -- well, this is one hell of an achievement. Not to mention the smart, sharp style the director uses in his odd time shifts, his introduction of a men's sex therapy group, and finally the addition of that very important fifth character.

All of this brings up another interesting point: How did those guardians of our film culture let this movie slip past them?  While they were sleeping, another much less worthy filmmaker like Ben Wheatley got his two movies -- Kill List and Down Terrace -- praised to the skies. While these films are indeed "different," stylistically they both clunk and neither works that well in terms of simple credibility. Could it be that Wheatley's insistence on giving us the blood, gore, murder and mayhem that so many of us crave above all else, makes him a worthier object upon which to heap praise?  Just asking.

Meanwhile, track down The West Wittering Affair, watch it and weigh in. You can rent it, as did I, from Netflix (Blockbuster has it, too), or purchase or stream it from Amazon and elsewhere.
Whatever: See it.

No comments: