Those who go to The End of the Affair expecting to see another English Patient will be sorely disappointed. The material is similar--Ralph Fiennes as the exquisitely tortured lover of an otherwise faithfully married woman during World War II. But the spirit is altogether different. And when it comes to movies adapted from Graham Greene novels, spirit is everything (as in "Holy Spirit"). Fiennes is a Greene-like novelist who falls immediately--perhaps too immediately--in love with Sarah (Julianne Moore), the wife of a high-level government bureaucrat (Stephen Rea). Their couplings are an island of peace amid the hailstorms of the London Blitz, but it can't last, and what lifts the novel and the film into a higher realm is how the affair ends. My lips are sealed, but let's just say that when it comes to competing with the new love in Sarah's life, Fiennes' novelist doesn't have a prayer. Director Neil Jordan has had a thing for miracles since at least The Miracle, and he tries to lay the groundwork for some divine intervention in The End of the Affair by tamping down the emotion. It's almost always raining, and the dampness seems to have seeped into the performances. Only Ian Hart, as a bumbling detective hired to follow Sarah through her various assignations, has any kind of spark, but the director plays down the comedy where he might have played it up. Overall, I wish he'd loosened his grip a bit, let the movie breathe. We aren't allowed to luxuriate in adulterous love, which may be the point, but what a puritanically harsh point it is. Nearly Bressonian in its attempt to prove the existence of God through the starkest of means, The End of the Affair is like Brief Encounter written by Thomas Aquinas--a theological love story. Alas, we have to take too much on faith. Forty years ago--gosh, was it that long?--Alain Resnais set world cinema abuzz with a pair of brain-teasers, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad. Many of us have lost track of him since then, but here he is again, this time with a 1997 film called Same Old Song, which will be screening at 7:30 p.m. this Sunday at 4070 Vilas Hall. It's an enjoyable farce about a group of Parisians who are related by birth, marriage or real estate. All of them want something, whether it's a new lover or a new apartment, but nobody seems to want the right things. More important, they don't ever say what they want. Instead, they burst into song--songs, actually, all sorts of songs sung by the likes of Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf. The actors, staying in character, lip-synch, and then the scene picks up where it left off.
Resnais got the idea from Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, where the songs told us more about the characters than the dialogue did. Here, it seems merely a distraction--minor at first, less so as the movie goes along. Of course, I'm an American, so these aren't exactly my same old songs. Maybe the movie's a scream if they are. The thing is, it would work just fine without them, the intricacy of farce playing right into Resnais' formalist strengths. Fortunately, Same Old Song contains just enough satiric bite to make it worth watching, holding its self-absorbed characters over the fire until they're all lightly singed.