Wind blows you down, someone pretty picks you up. Nice fantasy. That's what happens near the start of Unfaithful, Adrian Lyne's first feature since Lolita. Walking the cobbles of New York's SoHo in a sudden, violent windstorm, wife and mother Diane Lane takes a tumble, and flirty, funny Frenchman Olivier Martinez, toting rare books to his nearby loft, comes to her rescue. He offers her bandages. Tea. A gorgeous smile. She retreats. Back in the suburbs, she has a stable marriage to businessman Richard Gere, a bright young son (the marvelous Erik Per Sullivan, last seen in Wendigo). Why would she cheat?
Drawing from Claude Chabrol's 1968 classic, Une Femme Infidele, Lyne fashions one more cautionary tale against letting your knickers down. It's deeply mature work, with some of the most transportingly happy sex to be seen in an American-made movie in ages. Throughout a years-long writing-and-development period, Lyne was adamant that the characters' transgressions simply happen, that desire or frustration need not be rationalized or explained. I think it's his sexiest film, and I've admired the visual restlessness and tactile beauty of his work since The Table.
In Unfaithful, he again demonstrates a sensuous sense of the tease of infidelity, the thrill and ensuing feelings of guilt that come from doing the wrong thing. Yet the script, credited to Alvin Sargent and William Broyles, takes painstaking care not to assign blame: Sometimes things just happen, even when it happens to be a series of hot, illicit couplings.
Lyne's touch with actors is as assured as his sense of space and decor: Diane Lane is heartachingly good, Gere confounded as her straight-arrow husband and Martinez charming as the man in the middle. Lyne, noted for asking the opinions of everyone around him on a film set, is charmingly self-deprecating in conversation. He tells me he doesn't think I looked like the kind of person who would like one of his movies: "I looked over at you, I thought I was in deep shit."
"Quite often, silence is more important than whatever's said," the 61-year-old director says. "Like in that scene, for example, she's had [adulterous] sex for the first time, [Gere] comes in, makes conversation. She says, 'Can I get you anything?' Silence, silence, silence. She plays with a pen. It gives you a chance to play with sound effects."
Is that patience with actors or just shooting a lot of film? "It's both. There's a moment when Olivier says in French, 'Would you take your coat off?' She thinks he's said, 'Would you like to take your clothes off?' Again, it's about silence, really. When she finds out the word was 'coat,' she blushes scarlet. When you look at it, [Diane] actually blushed. I just felt so lucky. To get that from her, from an actress, for real. I mean, you don't get it normally, you stumble onto that stuff. You get an approximation. When you get it for real, it's just fabulous, a fabulous feeling."
The sex scenes convey urgent, clumsy passion. There's an offhand shot in one sequence where Lane's in a chair, being watched by Martinez, her jeans are unzipped, her palm is shoved down her pants and she has the most sublime, ingenuous smile. It's celebratory.
"Good, good," Lyne says, laughing. It's two adults playing. "It's funny. Someone asked me, they always ask me, what is the appeal of adultery? I suppose a lot of it is the danger of it, the illicitness of it. If we are free to do it -- in fact, that's my entire movie, isn't it? If we're free to do it, there's no heat."
Some therapists have observed that relationships that begin with fire generally burn out after a couple of weeks. "Hmm," Lyne says, thinking about Unfaithful's timeline. "That's about... three [weeks], yeah. Maybe. There's a little montage where I was trying to get the sense of when she was happy with both, could keep the balls in the air. Then obviously, it rapidly goes [sour]."
There's also a sensual, vulnerable tremble Lane demonstrates at moments of stress or desire. "The shaking, I'm proud of that, I mean, to be honest, I stole it, actually, from a film called Aimee and Jaguar. The reason I used Jan Kacamarek [for the lovely, sorrowful score] is because of his music in that. But there's also a scene in it where one of the women is shaking like a leaf in anticipation of making love to the other girl. I thought it was just so f--ing erotic. The anticipation of it... I wanted that. Then Diane managed to tremble convincingly. That's what you dream of, to get a hook like that."
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