It is something of an irony that films with feminist appeal are accused of being either too soft or too shrill, compromising or overbearing, too political or not political enough. Sometimes, a movie is just a movie.
Charlotte Brandstrom's "A Business Affair" is a romantic comedy with a very distinct feminist bent. It's the story of a London department store floor model (French actress Carole Bouquet) who outgrows her temperamental author husband (Jonathan Pryce), begins an affair with his aggressively flamboyant American publisher (Christopher Walken) and outgrows him too.
The movie was an audience pleaser on last year's festival circuit. Yet, the early buzz in the industry was that Brandstrom had sold her gender out, portraying her heroine not as the inherently strong-willed woman upon whom she is based, but as a beautiful ditz who comes by her independence almost by accident.
"A Business Affair" is a minor movie event, to be sure, and Brandstrom had some trouble blending the film's comedic and dramatic elements. But it is at times wonderfully entertaining, and better than most of what's been passing for women's movies from Hollywood recently.
William Stadiem's screenplay is based ever-so-loosely on the real-life 1950s love triangle involving married British writers Barbara Skelton and Cyril Connolly, and Connolly's publisher George Weidenfeld. Skelton, a woman of independent means and spirit, married and divorced both men, as fellow British literati cocked their eyes on the sidelines, and now--in her 70s--can look back on them as just two on a long list of lovers that includes such diverse fellows as King Farouk and New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams.
The true story may have made a more political movie. Certainly, Skelton was more the model of a liberated woman in the '50s than Bouquet's Kate Swallow is in the '90s. But it is Kate's growth, and the increasingly heavy blows she delivers to her men's egos, that give the film its steady comic pace.
Bouquet's expansive personality is limited by the role, at least until Kate herself becomes a best-selling author and begins to believe in her own worth, and Pryce, as the morbidly serious author Alec Bolton, is such a sour pill it's hard to imagine him having a companion of any sort.
Walken got the best of the roles, for sure, and has a high time with it. Vanni Corso is an outlandish caricature of an American hustler, a publisher with undeveloped literary tastes but an uncanny sense of marketing. If his father could sell pizza in Harlem, he explains to Kate, he ought to be able to sell culture in Europe, and he does.
But as time goes by, after he has stolen his client's wife and been chastened by the ensuing scandal, he seems to shrink in direct proportion to Kate's growth, and it's a nice bit of comedy acting. Walken, who has made a career of playing weird psychos, doesn't get many opportunities to play conventional movie characters, and it's clear from this that it is our loss.
* MPAA rating: R, for language and for some sexuality. Times guidelines: colorful profanity and tastefully handled sex scene.
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'A Business Affair'
Christopher Walken: Vanni
Carole Bouquet: Kate
Jonathan Pryce: Alec
Sheila Hancock Judith
Fernando Guillen Guervo: Angel
A Castle Hill production, released by Castle Hill. Director Charlotte Brandstrom. Producers Xavier Larere, Clive Parsons, Davina Belling. Executive producers Martha Wansbrough, Willi Baer. Screenplay by William Stadiem, inspired by "Tears Before Bedtime" and "Weep No More" by Barbara Skelton. Cinematographer Willy Kurant. Editor Laurence Mery-Clark. Costumes Tom Rand. Music Didier Vasseur. Production design Sophie Becher. Art director Kave Naylor. Set designer Sophie Becher. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.
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