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THE END OF THE AFFAIR

by: Michael Dequina

"This is a diary of hate," is the first line uttered in Neil Jordan's The End of the Affair. However, that line could not be a more inaccurate description of this film, for it is a beautifully passionate and extremely romantic screen treatment of Graham Greene's novel.

Even though the words "the end" are in the title, The End of the Affair is about a love's survival, but--as the words "the affair" suggest--that love is forbidden. The film opens on one rainy night in London in 1946, where writer Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes) runs into old friend Henry Miles (Stephen Rea) by chance. Henry tells Maurice that he suspects his wife Sarah (Julianne Moore) is having an affair--words that hit close to home for Maurice: two years ago, he and Sarah had an affair themselves, and his reacquaintance with the couple just reignites his obsessive love for her.

Jordan, who also scripted, follows a complex structure that weaves back and forth through past, present, and future. The film is held together by Maurice's aforementioned "diary of hate," which looks back on his investigation into Sarah's suspicious 1946 doings, not to mention the origins of his relationship with her. The two meet at a party to which Maurice is invited by Henry, and their attraction is fiery and immediate--as is the electricity between Fiennes and Moore. The pair absolutely sizzle together in addition to having a palpable romantic chemistry, and their steamy yet swoony scenes together show that eroticism and romance do not necessarily have to exist independently of one another.

While The End of the Affair is indeed about a love triangle, it's not between the parties it would appear to be. In fact, the film is as much of a mystery as it is a traditional love story. The central narrative mystery is that of the reasons why the affair between Maurice and Sarah ended in the first place, which gives way into an even larger and deeper mystery. Some critics have taken issue with the handling of the latter turn, but the fact that I was able to accept such a sharp twist so unconditionally is a tribute to the remarkable finesse of Jordan's direction; I was caught up in the story enough to accept wherever it was going.

That, of course, is as much the actors' doing as it is Jordan's. Fiennes and Moore are both wrenching in depicting their characters' soul-aching longing and bringing to life their characters' individual aspects. While one does feel his character's pain, he doesn't downplay the dark nature of his obsession. Moore has a perhaps more difficult task as her character undergoes the most radical shift in the film, but she pulls off the job without hitting a false note. Likely to go unnoticed alongside such rich star turns is Rea, but his poignantly subtle work is every bit as impressive as that of his co-stars.

The End of the Affair is indeed, when boiled down to the bare essentials, a melodrama that employs all the conventional tactics of emotional manipulation. What is hardly conventional, however, is how beautifully and genuinely moving the execution is.

RATING: **** 1/2 (out of *****)

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