My Love Affair with Marriage
Compelled by both external and internal forces, Zelma (voice of Dagmara Dominczyk, HBO's 'Succession') is conditioned to believe that her life will not be complete until she finds a male soul mate, but she becomes increasingly rebellious as she is disappointed by one man after another in “My Love Affair with Marriage.”
Laura's Review: A
It’s been nine years since writer/animator/cinematographer/lyricist/production designer/director Signe Baumane’s sublime "Rocks in My Pockets,” her ingeniously entertaining animation about the generational history of depression encompassing the women in her family from her grandmother on down. Now she’s back with another stunningly visualized tale that connects biological and social influences to her emotions and it was worth the wait, Baumane having an uncanny ability to utilize surreal symbolism to express complex concepts. You’ve also just got to love a movie that uses ‘The Internationale,’ the Russian national anthem, as a punch line.
She has divided her movie into three parts, a prelude featuring her 7 year-old protagonist introducing Biology (voice of Michele Pawk, animation by Yajun Shi), who will appear throughout and who explains how Zelma was born ‘capable of responding to external attacks’ because of the trauma experienced by her parents in Eastern Europe during the time she was conceived. Part 1, ‘Formation,’ follows Zelma in her early years, where a cat persona represents her innate response to threat, in particular the little boy she’s seated next to in her new class. Her physical rebuff is deemed unfeminine, and another schoolmate, the insufferable Elita (voice of Erica Schroeder), gives her a creepy schooling on how to attract a boy in song featuring the lyric ‘It doesn’t matter how you feel, only how you look.’ Then Zelma finds herself attracted to a member of the opposite sex for the first time and follows Elita’s advice, dressing for him, not herself, allowing her hair to be pulled without complaint. Baumane visualizes the beginning of menstruation by splitting Zelma’s torso, a red bird flying out and her mother (voice of Florencia Lozano) advises her to stay a virgin until she marries, do *anything* to maintain that marriage and that all will be well if she simply loves her children more than her husband. The individual parts of Zelma’s brain are anthropomorphized to show how she is processing everything and a trio of mythology sirens, birds with human heads, reinforces stereotypical societal expectations. Zelma’s first experience with sex is a disappointment, a combination of her body signaling her fertility and an older artist’s flattery that Baumane caps off with a brief lesson on the importance of the hymen in the animal kingdom.
Part 2, ‘Implementation’ and Part 3, ‘Reconsideration,’ both begin with biological analyses of the two men who Zelma would marry, Sergei (voice of Cameron Monaghan) and Bo (voice of Matthew Modine) (the latter was Baumane’s real life inspiration for this film). Each has his own vastly different issues, Sergei a controlling alcoholic, Bo a cross dressing Swede. Baumane breaks down the chemical nature of romantic love and how humans ‘taste’ cultural differences.
Those who have seen her prior film will recognize Baumane’s elastic animation style, some backgrounds photorealistic. Her extraordinary use of the medium suggests such things as Zelma’s artificially forced smile at Sergei becoming a sexual invite, the grin expanding to hint at the female sexual organ. History is largely evident in Sergei’s segment, cast against the officiousness of Russian bureaucracy, a wedding ceremony hilarious in its terse sterility. Kristian Sensini has written multiple songs (with Baumane’s lyrics) for the film’s Greek chorus of sirens, all of them attempting to steer Zelma into her biological fate, but that ‘fight’ she inherited nurtures an intellectual feminism.
“My Love Affair with Marriage” is a heady, wildly entertaining personal exploration of the chemical nature of romance.
Robin's Review: A
8Above released “My Love Affair with Marriage” in NY on 10/6/23. It is traveling around the country with Q&A’s with the filmmaker – check for screenings here.