Review: The Story of My Wife
by Kaleem Aftab
- CANNES 2021: Ildikó Enyedi adapts Milán Füst’s novel for the big screen with aplomb in this story of what can go wrong when jealousy and fear enter a relationship
Consumed by jealousy, Captain Storr (Gijs Naber), a middle-aged Dutch seaman, is convinced that his wife, Lizzy (Léa Seydoux), has been unfaithful to him. This adaptation of The Story of My Wife [+see also:
interview: Ildikó Enyedi
film profile], Milán Füst’s stream-of-consciousness novel, is a lush affair told in seven chapters that see some scenes set in London in the book transported to Hamburg for the film. It's directed by Hungarian helmer Ildikó Enyedi, who last time around won the Berlinale Golden Bear for On Body and Soul [+see also:
interview: Ildiko Enyedi
interview: Ildiko Enyedi
interview: Réka Tenki
film profile]. She's now trying to add the Palme d'Or for Best Film in the Cannes competition to the Caméra d'Or for Best First Film that she won for My Twentieth Century back in 1989.
The film has a great meet-cute. Storr is sitting in a plush cafe in Paris with the cynical Herr Blume (Josef Hader). Blume suggests to Storr that marriage would be a good option for the happiness of the freighter captain. Storr jokingly says he'll marry the next girl to enter the cafe. Fortunately for him, that woman is Lizzy. She is stylish and seems amused, and slightly bemused, when the bearded Storr comes over and tells her that he wants to marry her. Playfully, she accepts the proposal. Seydoux, who can so often seem cold and distant in roles, is warm, welcoming and playful as Lizzy. She runs with the conversation, especially as it affords her a situation that will allow her to spurn the advances of one of her many suitors. The wedding night is a sexier version of the Netflix show The Queen's Gambit, with Storry suggesting a game of strip poker. Lizzy continues to have the upper hand in the game – and their relationship. It's enjoyable, but the pleasure deflates when Storr is compelled to go out to sea.
Enyedi takes us through the different stages of the relationship with her chapter headings. Storr is not so comfortable when out in society, and once he's back on the ship, he can once again be the strong, silent type. The only problem is that he can't control the thoughts in his head. He convinces himself that his wife, who lives in a rather lovely apartment in Paris, is having an affair with her friend, writer Dedin (Louis Garrel, showing some edge). Enyedi skilfully keeps the audience seeing the world through Storr's eyes, wondering whether his suspicions are true or not.
After such a fresh opening act, the edge comes off it as Storr tries to prove the world is as he sees it. The couple moves from fun and frivolous Paris to cold and austere Hamburg, where Storr has an affair with a girl impressed by his heroics at sea. His connection with the free-spirited Lizzy is lost, and they drift apart. It's in this section that both Storr and the film suffer. The captain’s fears seem to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the movie doesn't embark on conflict resolution and instead becomes a meandering game of cat and mouse. Then comes the vicious sting in the tail with a surprising ending that flips the script, giving an entirely different spin on events.
The Story of My Wife is a Hungarian-German-French-Italian co-production staged by Inforg-M&M Film, Palosanto Films Srl, Arte France, Pyramide Productions, Komplizen Film and Rai Cinema. Its international sales are handled by Films Boutique.
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