"The End of the Affair"

The nakedness of Neil Jordan's moody, oddly magical love story goes beyond the skin.

By Michael Sragow
Published August 7, 2000 9:10PM (EDT)

The End of the Affair
Directed by Neil Jordan. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea
Columbia Tristar Home Video; widescreen (1.85:1) and full-frame (1.33:1) Extras: Trailer, behind-the-scenes featurette, production notes, director and cast commentary

Neil Jordan is a born fabulist who knows how to craft movies for big screens to the far corners of a frame. His touch is as bold as it is subtle: He molds the most delicate frisson so that it packs a haymaker wallop. That's why it's wonderful to see "The End of the Affair" in a theater -- and why it's also an ideal film to add to your DVD collection. It's a moody, oddly magical love story about a writer (Ralph Fiennes) and a diplomat's wife (Julianne Moore) who strike divine sparks during the Second World War. Making love in the writer's flat while the bombs burst around them, they surrender themselves to a passion so tumultuous it can drown out even the Blitz.

At times, the movie plays like an adult companion to John Boorman's exuberant classic of a boy's life during wartime, "Hope and Glory." But a soul-rending sacrifice tempers Jordan's depiction of the freedom that can bubble up within a national crisis.

Jordan wrote as well as directed this adaptation of Graham Greene's novel in a way that supports the heroine's belief that real love never ends, no matter the state of an affair. Mordantly smart and with an ending that wrings bitter tears, Jordan's picture fuses faith, heartbreak, blasphemy and romantic transcendence. Call it "Hopelessness, then Glory."

Watching "The End of the Affair" on DVD, you can exploit the standard feature of scene selection for a razor-edged demonstration of expressive camera placement and film editing. But what's more important is that the lead performances snap into sharp relief as you run the action again on the player or in your mind. Fiennes proves to be a master of erotic mortification, while Moore acts with a sometimes-mysterious restraint that pays dividends in a final, piercing intimacy.

Both Jordan and Moore grace the DVD with their commentaries. Jordan has a gentle manner and a lilting tone: He makes "you know?" sound like a genuine entreaty, not a reflexive punctuation. But he's also blithely confident (and persuasive) when he talks about the decision to alter the final act of Greene's book. He responds eloquently to sarcastic criticisms of his heroine's telltale cough: He says that he hopes the question of what happens next is less important in his films than why and how it happens. Part of the reason that holds true in "The End of the Affair" is Moore's prismatic characterization.

In her commentary, what's most striking is her emotional accessibility -- you can hear her losing herself in her scenes all over again. She brings us inside the rapport she shared not only with Fiennes but also with Stephen Rea as her woebegone husband and Ian Hart as the surprisingly humane detective Fiennes hires to follow her. Moore says she backed Jordan's choice to portray lovers who didn't simply rip each other's clothes off. Moore and Fiennes reveal flesh aplenty in "The End of the Affair." What sticks with you is their naked emotion.

To the next review in the DVD Room

"Boys Don't Cry" Director Kimberly Peirce discusses the hazards of low-budget filmmaking and the intricacies of bringing this heartland tragedy to the screen.
By Andrew O'Hehir [08/08/00]

Michael Sragow

Michael Sragow's column about moviemakers appears every Thursday in Salon. For more columns by Sragow, visit his archive.

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