Nobody does a weekend fling quite like the Brits do, says Judge Jesse Ataide.
"It's amazing how one weekend can change a life."—Cathy (Sarah Sutcliffe)
After attending several film festivals, I made the realization that there is a type of film that you see within the context of a festival, like or admire to some degree, but expect to never hear of again. After making the rounds on the film festival circuit, films not lucky enough to land some kind of distribution deal kind of fall into a metaphorical black hole, and rather sadly, are almost completely forgotten. I've come to call these films—and I've caught a handful or so of them over the years—"forgotten films."
During the first five minutes of The West Wittering Affair I was convinced I had one of the lucky "forgotten films" on my hand, and it actually seemed luckier than most, as it had received a token theatrical release in its native Britain before surfacing on DVD on this side of the pond. It exhibited a lot of the hallmarks I associate with the "forgotten film": flashy direction, creative use of DV, and a cast of quirky characters played by actors who look more like real people than movie stars, all of which are used to try and cover for the fact that the film was made on the most minimal of budgets. If I'm honest, I'll admit that I wasn't expecting much from The West Wittering Affair. But in the end, I was pleasantly surprised.
The film begins with that all-familiar British storytelling device of individuals descending on a country house for a weekend away (this one is located in the West Wittering of the title). Cathy (Sarah Sutcliffe), the hostess of the weekend, has invited Jamie (Danny Scheinman), a guy she's interested in, as well as her best friend Natasha (Rebecca Cardinale) and Natasha's boyfriend, both meant as a backup just in case things go bad with Jamie. But Natasha shows up alone after a bitter fight (she suspects her boyfriend of having an affair), and Jamie suddenly finds himself caught between two women who are not only available, but actually seem to be sexually interested in him. Cathy is rather upfront that she's just desperate to get laid; in her emotionally vulnerable state Natasha seems willing to do anything to get even with her cheating boyfriend. During the night, Jamie ends up sleeping with both women. The next morning, both women discover the truth, and everything falls apart from there.
The first half of The West Wittering Affair depicts the events of the ill-fated weekend and an extended, graphically detailed conversation Jamie has with his new psychiatrist about the emotional fall-out from his amorous adventures in West Wittering. The second half of the film jumps to three years after the fact, picking up what happened to everyone involved. The entire film is intercut with scenes from a sexual therapy group, with the assembled men humorously revealing their sexual shortcomings and insecurities.
The plot structure of The West Wittering Affair is heavily indebted to theatrical conventions and, indeed, many of the (rather unbelievable) plot twists, coincidences, and situations are one expects while watching a play unfold, not ones that would occur in everyday life. But in the bonus material, the film's carefully constructed plot is proved to be nothing less than a necessity as director David Scheinman explains how all of the dialogue was improvised by the actors during filming. This is a particularly impressive revelation, particularly when it is taken into account how intricate many of the conversations are. Also on display is an obvious rapport and comfort level between all of the actors, which is not surprising, considering that Jamie and Cathy are played by the director's brother and sister-in-law, and all of the major actors in the film are friends in real life. This underlying dynamic of friendship, and the comfort and trust that it entails, goes a long way in selling many of the twisted relationships in the film, and occasionally helps justify the characters' sometimes questionable actions and spotty motivations. The film relies heavily on the four central performances, and it is to the actor's credit that all four are uniformly excellent.
The West Wittering Affair, despite a lot of serious and emotional terrain it traverses in the second half, is being marketed as a comedy (indeed a quote from Monty Python's Terry Jones claiming the film had him "in stitches" is prominently displayed on the DVD case). And the film lives up to its marketing, featuring more than a few gags and sequences that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. The film might be heavily indebted to the literate, patently British comedy-of-manners, but there are also large doses of bawdy screwball comedy incorporated to keep the laughs coming. It makes me wish I had seen the film in a theater, as The West Wittering Affair is the type of comedy that benefits greatly from collective audience laughter.
The image quality of the film is extremely good for a DV film, and the picture is very crisp and precise. While it doesn't really require the surround sound track it is given, it's great that the audio quality is excellent as well, especially considering the heavy emphasis that the film places on the dialogue and quick verbal sparring. Unfortunately there are no subtitles in any language available on this DVD release, and I suspect including subtitles in English would have been an extremely good choice since this is the type of British film that tends to inspire complaints by American audiences that heavy accents prevent their ability to follow the dialogue.
The DVD includes a few extras. The best and most informative is an audio interview with director David Scheinmann made at the Seattle International Film Festival by hollywoodreviews.com. It is here the Scheinmann really delves into the making-of aspects of the film, including the casting choices and the use of improvisation in the film. Also included are what appear to be two short films, both revolving around the men's therapy group that comprises one of the film's major storylines. One is a mock infomercial hawking the services of Dr. Andrew Holland, the counselor of the group in the film; the other seems to be all of the therapy segments that appeared in the film placed together so that they play as a single, linear, stand-alone short (interestingly, it's much less funny when presented this way). There is also a gallery where each of the songs that appear on the films soundtrack can be played in full, as well as the film's theatrical trailer.
As I mentioned above I really didn't expect much from The West Wittering Affair. But in the end, I've found that I've developed quite a bit of affection for it, and I'm glad that LifeSize Entertainment saved from what would likely have been a distributionless fate.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Life Size Entertainment
• Interview with Director David Scheinmann
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