Slamdance Film Review: Human Affairs
Slamdance Film Festival
Director: Charlie Birns
Apt to its title, Human Affairs is a glimpse into the complexity of people managing nontraditional relationships. Genevieve, a young French expat living a quiet Vermont life, travels to New York to make the first personal contact with Sidney and Lucinda, the couple for whom she is three months into surrogacy.
The complicated dynamic of the film begins right out of the gate, paired with contemplative and quiet scenes of the city and brief, sometimes overly expositional character narrations. The film wastes no time creating slightly stilted tension between the young, ostensibly naive protagonist and Sidney. Lucinda is a career actress in her late 30s whose work is her life. After two miscarriages, she and Sidney navigate their family making with an unsynchronized intensity. Immediately the intimacy of the situation facilitates transgression, and the strange triangle they’ve crafted crumbles into conflict.
Human Affairs displays the harsh and misunderstood reality of infertility and pregnancy loss with no filter or sheen. The question of whether bearing a child with someone forges a non-negotiable bond feels important, yet the film appears to insinuate that the male partner cannot help but suffer romantic attachment to his surrogate. Furthermore, the detached, career-focused wife is portrayed as self-absorbed and inaccessible. This film hits home, perhaps with a bit more soap opera ethos than is helpful regarding a widely misunderstood topic.
Smoldering and intense, Human Affairs is fraught with veering emotions and interpersonal issues. Director Charlie Birns, himself a professional hypnotherapist, deftly draws envy, desire, confusion and anger from his actors. The banality of everyday interactions between the three characters are rich with struggle and internalized suffering. The ending of the film redeems itself wisely and leaves the viewer with a semblance of resolution to the tension that feels, at times, untenable and overwrought.
Human Affairs is beautifully filmed, with no distraction from the depth of its topic. The soundtrack is soft and ambient, mixed beautifully with natural sounds and acting as a perfectly gentle counterpoint. Admittedly, I wanted to love this film for its art, and as a person who has navigated the painful complexity of infertility, I might recommend caution to audiences who have traumatic experiences with the topic at hand. Trigger warnings would appropriately abound for such viewers. Human Affairs is discordant and conflicted, perhaps not suited for your quiet date night but filled with honesty and raw simplicity. This film has a lot of heart, most of which is in the right place. –Paige Zuckerman