My Love Affair With Marriage


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

My Love Affair With Marriage
"If there’s a single word to describe the latest film from Signe Baumane, it’s vibrancy." | Photo: Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

If there’s a single word to describe the latest film from Signe Baumane, it’s vibrancy. From the tactile sensation generated by the detailed stop-motion sets her hand drawn characters move through to the spark of synapses in its quirky biological explainations and the energetic musical interludes, it’s enjoyably spirited.

In this autobiographically-inflected tale, Baumane takes an offbeat approach to the life and loves of Zelma (voiced by Succession’s Dagmara Dominczyk), showing how her upbringing in Soviet-occupied Latvia shaped her perceptions of what it meant to be a woman in society before opening out into an exploration of her subsequent relationships.

Zelma’s story is punctuated by musical interludes from a chorus of “mythology sirens”, who pop up to offer less than helpful advice, including, “Good girls don’t run, being elegant is more fun” and “Submission is your ultimate power”. The upbeat nature of these interludes, peppily scored by Kristian Sensini, only serves to underline the power of cultural manipulation and expectation when it comes to gender roles. The nod to Russian dominance is also represented through the repeated use of the Soviet national anthem, while the cultural manipulation also recalls fellow recent Latvian animation My Favorite War.

Beyond this, whenever Zelma experiences a strong emotion - including a fight or flight response, which sees her briefly shape-shift into a cat - we are taken to a biology lesson delivered by a neuron, who explains the brain chemistry that’s helping to drive it.

These cutaways are animated with distinctive verve by Yajun Shi and are educational without being dull. While explanations of menstruation and the fertilisation of an egg in the womb might be familiar to some, it’s likely few will be familiar with the major histocompatibility complex, which is among the brain emotional responses that is laid out. This, along with the film’s exploration of the insidious nature of toxic relationships could make this film an excellent tool for schools looking for discussion content for older teenagers.

As a relationship satire, Baumane - who previously made Rocks In My Pockets - doesn’t hold back. Although she handles the material lightly, we see how Zelma’s relationships are fraught and complicated by the expectations that have been drilled into her. Nothing goes as she imagines, from losing her virginity to her first marriage to Sergei (Cameron Monaghan), whose coercive control gradually escalates and a subsequent relationship with the gender-fluid Bo (Mathew Modine). Although Zelma is shown to be shaped by experience and influenced by her own brain chemistry, Baumane leaves plenty of scope for her to break the mould.

Reviewed on: 07 Apr 2023
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Some people spend their lives wondering why a marriage didn’t last. Signe Baumane set out to get some answers. The result is this animated film, which combines ancient mythology and contemporary neuroscience.

Director: Signe Baumane

Writer: Signe Baumane

Starring: Dagmara Dominczyk, Michele Pawk, Matthew Modine, Cameron Monaghan, Stephen Lang, Erica Schroeder, Emma Kenney, Anna O'Donoghue, Tanya Franks, Clyde Baldo, Najla Said, Keith Randolph Smith, Dan Domingues, Florencia Lozano, Ruby Modine

Year: 2022

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: US

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