End of the Affair, The (1999)

The End of the Affair (1999), directed by Neil Jordan.


Sarah: Love doesn't end, just because we don't see each other.

Maurice: Doesn't it?

Sarah: People go on loving God, don't they? All their lives. Without seeing him.

Maurice: That's not my kind of love.

Sarah: Maybe there is no other kind.

Movies are good at the direct, the literal, and the obvious. The invisible workings of life are more mysterious than that, incomprehensible to everyone in it and exceedingly hard to present.

I'm reluctant to use words like "perfect" or "masterpiece", but this is a little gem of a film, inescapably troubling the mind and piercing the heart. For some reason I didn't think much of it when it was new, but after a recent rewatch I begin to gush. Where's the Blu-ray?

The twentieth century had a small literary genre I think of as a sort of "crypto-Catholicism": not explicitly religious but where intimations of the beyond creep up and entrap the characters. Flannery O'Connor was an American example and Evelyn Waugh did it in Britain with Brideshead Revisited and his Sword of Honour trilogy.

Graham Greene was another prominent English example, putting himself and his love travails into this story. The setting is before, during and after the Second World War and the story jumps back and forth, giving the same scenes from different perspectives, after we have new knowledge. At one point I thought we were seeing alternate histories, what might have been, but no: same street, same people, just a different year. Like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), when reflecting over our lives we become unstuck in time.

The background is the War and the bombing of rainy, smokey London, but the frame is smaller, kept to a small group of troubled people.

We have:

Scored and conducted by Michael Nyman, always an asset to any film. He is best known for the kinetic beauty he added to Peter Greenaway's art films, and for the Scottish-sounding piano concerto in Jane Campion's The Piano (1993).

Here he provides elegiac melody that sounds like one of the soundtracks of life. Really: when people say that I think they mean the pop music playing at the time, but if music moves you then life does have musical themes. Michael Nyman is one of those artists who can score the inexpressible poignancy of life. That's what it sounds like to me.

Jo Stafford's "Haunted Heart" is the period music.

I also want to mention Ian Hart who I just saw as the young John Lennon in Backbeat (1994), perhaps better known as the unfortunate Professor of the Dark Arts master Quirrell in the first Harry Potter film. Here he is a likable working-class outsider in the seedy job of private detective, spying on women to get the goods on them for divorce actions.

Some passion scenes, boobs and backsides. The self-image of the English is of coldness; it's good to break the stereotype.

Available on DVD, not very good quality. I'd like an upgrade.

The director provides a commentary which has -- as you would expect -- many worthwhile reflections: