Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Walk on the Moon (1999)-R; Unfaithful (2002)- R

Over the course of three years Diane Lane, a talented and subtle actress, starred in a pair of films with similar plots but strikingly different resolutions. In each film Lane portrays a mother who is also wife to a devoted, hard-working husband. And in each she is also a woman who finds something missing in her life. She wants something more. In both films she enters an affair with an attractive poet-artist-musician. The sex is passionate and explicit. However, in Unfaithful (based on Claude Chabrol's 1969 classic La Femme Infidele, and for which Lane received a Best Actress Oscar nomination) the affair ends in tragedy; the husband, played by Richard Gere, commits murder. In A Walk on the Moon the Lane character's husband, this one played by Liv Schreiber, successfully brings an end to the affair in a rather more positive, humane and satisfactory fashion; in an effort to rekindle their lost sexual excitement he attempts to learn to dance. I vote for the second ending and also enjoyed A Walk on the Moon much more than Unfaithful.

The failure of film and our culture to understand the subtle nature and full dimensions of extra-marital sex represents a failure to grapple with its complexity. Better films, regardless of the plot, are more engaging because they present three-dimensional characters, and avoid trite, simplistic, overly moralistic "lessons" for the viewer. Set in the year 1969, when astronauts first landed on Earth's closest neighbor and young people gamboled at Woodstock, A Walk on the Moon presents us with four complex characters who by turns reveal their complex reactions to extra-marital sex. This quartet; wife, husband, teenage daughter and mother-in-law, are all simultaneously able sincerely espouse the notion that the extramarital sex is wrong, and yet at the same time acknowledge their need to find something more in their life.

Anna Paguin, who was brilliant in The Piano (1993)-R, plays Lane's teenage. Paguin gives a wonderful performance as a daughter in deep and angry conflict with her mother, who rushes to have her own sexual experience and then is terrified by the prospect of her parents break-up. Lane is also excellent as a woman who experiences very erotic pleasure for the first time, yet lovingly attempts to protect and care for her distraught daughter. This is drama with much depth, complexity and ultimately a generous helping of sweet humanity.

In addition to its Aquarian setting, the film plays out against the backdrop of Jewish culture as expressed in summer family camps in the Catskills. The presentation of American Jewish life in the '60s is both entertaining and again presents a lesson about the complexity of extra-marital sex. Finally, the sex scenes are both erotic and explicit. The film captures very beautiful and erotic love-making scenes at a waterfall. For those seeking an enjoyable, entertaining and positively erotic film, this one is highly recommended

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