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Tagebuch einer Pariser Affäre / Diary of a Fleeting Affair

Director: Emmanuel Mouret (France). Year of Release: 2022

Charlotte and Simon meet in a bar, apparently the result of an encounter at a party. She gave him her number. He didn’t expect to ring her, but somehow they are here anyway. They both have kids, he has a wife, and talks a lot to cover his nervousness. She seems to be more in control, aware of what she wants. They talk around their approaching sexual encounter. It’s like what a Woody Allen film would look like if the female love interest were older than a teenager.

Charlotte and Simon spend apparently eternal discussions worrying how they can keep their liaison entirely sexual and carefree. I’m sure the audience is not supposed to be unaware of the irony of thinking through spontaneity to the nth degree. But it’s not as if either of them is bringing much to the table. They are both ok looking, although he is a bit shambling and losing his hair. They are each more attracted by the other’s ordinariness than any obvious beauty or wit.

Each of them is comfortably bourgeois. It’s as if they are so concerned about the minutia of their relationship as they have no more important worries. For all their apparent intelligence, they never seem interested in anything. They visit galleries and parks and badminton courts, but rarely talk about what they have just seen. In their world, art is something to be visited and consumed – not discussed and appreciated. Far better to go on, and on, about their uninteresting affaire.

Somewhere along the line, Charlotte and Simon pick up Louise from a dating app. Scenes of awkwardly walking round exhibitions, that have inhabited previous scenes are repeated, only this time with one more person. Louise invites them home – her architect husband is away. Her house is even more expensively bourgeois than theirs. A ménage à trois starts briefly on screen before being discreetly moved off stage.

What is the film trying to tell us? As far as Simon is concerned, it’s about the need to be decisive and taking decisions. He recounts a story to Charlotte and Louise of a camping trip with his female cousin on one side and equally female German pen pal on the other. As he deliberated on which one he wanted to kiss first, a storm whipped up and took away his tent. The evening ended with them all sleeping in his car – the girly in the back seat, Simon, alone in the front.

This story tells us something about Simon’s indecisiveness – reflecting the fact that although he has often thought about having an affair, he did nothing about it until Charlotte took the lead. But it also tells us much more. Firstly, it is only certain young men who can afford to have their own car. Secondly we see the arrogance of the rich. At no stage in the story does anyone question the idea that of course each girl was waiting for this sleazy sounding boy to come onto them.

This mirrors one of the opening scenes in which Charlotte tells the shlubby Simon that she desperately wants to sleep with him. In case you needed to ask, this film was written and directed by men, and probably by men with illusions about their own sexual magnetism. Simon is presented a someone who may not be particularly attractive but his main problem is that he is too timid to make a pass at any of the women who are apparently falling at his feet.

This is a story told by and about people who have never seriously experienced a lack of control over their environment. The fact that Simon is cheating on his wife is not an issue – she is just collateral damage. I don’t want to be a prude about this, and it’s up to anyone to decide who they want to sleep with, but Simon’s disregard for his wife seems to come from somewhere else – from a feeling that the rest of the world is just there for him to use and abuse as he wishes.

And yet Simon is clearly intended to be the film’s hero, and even its tragic figure. We are meant to admire his sloppy charm, even though he rarely says or does anything that is actually memorable. When the plot develops, as plots inevitably do, and Simon is eased out of the relationship, we are expected to feel sorry for him – even though he is still in a marriage which is as happy as something can be if one of the participants is a vain, self-regarding user.

For a film in which precious little happens, we hear a lot of people talking about stuff we don’t need to know. Simon in particular is prone to saying everything in his head when he is nervous, which is most of the time. For a while, this is a quaint characteristic of a man lacking some self-confidence. After a while it just gets tiresome. Watching the film at times is the equivalent of being trapped in a room with a boring man who never knows when he should shut up.

I guess you’d call Tagebuch einer Pariser Affäre a comedy of manners, but as someone lacking in most manners, it just didn’t move me. I think we were supposed to laugh at the vanity and pretentiousness of the main characters, in particular Simon, but this would require us to have feelings about them either way. While they aren’t explicitly boring, and for a while their adventures are vaguely diverting, ultimately there’s little here for anyone to remember.

Tagebuch einer Pariser Affäre – it’s not a complete waste of time. But I bet if you do go and see it you’ll have pretty much forgotten 90% of it an hour after you leave the cinema.

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