Alice and Frank move to a new flat in the country with their children. As their day-to-day life takes its course, Alice notices that Frank is worried about something. He only opens up to her gradually and the more he reveals about himself, the less Alice wants to know about the truth.
This is the story of an intense, inescapable confrontation between two spouses, as hidden secrets progressively come to light. In simple, but emotionally dense scenes, the film follows the everyday life of a family, which – initially almost unnoticed – gradually comes apart at the seams as Alice and Frank slide into a deep crisis after 18 years of marriage. Over the period of a year, the film shows the characters with their wishes and limitations. Their helplessness when faced with a truth that throws their previous life into turmoil: Frank feels more and more attracted to a man.
NOTE DI REGIA:
In my circle of friends and acquaintances, I have often experienced relatives struggling with the coming-out of a person dear to them. The realisation that not only the gay person has to travel a rocky road, but also the individuals close to him or her has always intrigued me. The dilemma of these indirectly affected people is rarely explored. This is why I decided to focus my film on a person who is indirectly affected by a coming out.
The film centres around the gradual disintegration of a marriage. I wanted to create an apparently extraordinary story about a rather ordinary marriage. It was important for me to make it very concrete and realistic.
The script is a distillation of intense, very personal conversations held with gay fathers and their family members, which afforded me deep insights into matrimonial and family tales. When a married man comes out as gay, this represents an emotional earthquake, particularly for his wife. I met just such a woman, the mother of several children, shortly after her husband revealed to her that he was attracted to men. Over the period of a year, I regularly met with her for conversations and witnessed her experiences at first hand. My notes on these conversations, the record of this couple’s emotional and sexual estrangement, so to speak, became the framework of the script.
During the course of this story, the viewer learns about many of the determining facts only incidentally. The events unfold off-screen, where Frank experiences a new, exciting and joyful life. My focus is on the consequences that Frank’s experiences have for Alice and the children. The bedroom stands almost symbolically for the physical centre of the marriage. Together with the adjoining bathroom and the terrace, it is the film’s principal location. In a certain sense, the reduction to this one place corresponds to Alice and her children’s radius of perception. Here, all the strands converge; here, the everyday is contrasted with the tragic, the commonplace with the extraordinary. For the characters, there is no escape. This single room acts as a condenser of emotions and the intensity of the conflicts that are acted out in this family.
Alice is the most deeply affected by the events, she is the protagonist. The focus is always on her narrative, the viewer’s knowledge equates with hers. She is a transparent character, which makes her fragile, but also the figure we identify with. She is extremely open in her dealings with Frank and wishes that he behaved likewise. She seeks out a dialogue with her husband, believes that problems can be resolved if dealt with in time. She soon catches on that Frank is changing, but because he withdraws into himself, she fails to immediately understand what’s going on. Then, Alice begins to intuit the approaching disaster. But she refuses to acknowledge it. She struggles against the inevitable, attempts everything to save the relationship, to keep the family together. She adopts the active role, starts the ball rolling, but soon loses control over the situation.
For me, Alice is a character who, even in failure, remains true to herself, to her feelings, her confusion and her anger. This is what makes her fascinating. She seems defenceless, not only against Frank, but also against herself, against her own desperation. She sinks deep, remains as if paralyzed under water, but finally manages to find the strength to surface again.
Alice has no defence mechanisms, Frank, in contrast, has internalised many. It takes him a long time to open up and be able to express his feelings. The longer the situation persists, the more torn he is between his role as a father and the desire to at last experience what he has been in denial about for so long. Fundamentally, his dilemma is unsolvable: If he stays with Alice, he negates himself. If he leaves, Alice and the children will be left alone to deal with the problem he has caused. Frank too feels crushed by the many years of suppressing the truth. Basically, nothing can be done in the face of this truth. Initially, he is at pains to play down the matter. He is attached to the children and doesn’t want to lose everything. But his family life and his new love cannot be reconciled. Separation is the only option.
During the progressive break-up of the couple, the change in their sexuality is the main focus. The entire process of disaffection between Alice and Frank is revealed in the way in which their bodies initially still encounter one another full of intimacy, but later no longer find each other.
The events that suddenly burst into the family’s everyday life were inconceivable to Alice and remain inexplicable to her to the end. After nearly 20 years of marriage with Frank, Alice believed she knew his innermost self. But she has to accept that there are facets which are inaccessible even to her. The question of how her husband can possibly feel attracted to men after all this time remains unanswered. This unfathomable aspect is important to me: namely that sexuality – one’s own and the other’s – cannot be fully understood or rationalised.
While Frank dares to take the step into a new sexuality and a new life, Alice stays behind with herself and her body, aggrieved and insecure, also in her self-image as a woman. But she succeeds in catching herself emotionally and does not give up on her body. She breaks free from her love for a man who has become out of reach for her. Although it is difficult for Alice, and to a certain extent for her children, to ultimately accept Frank’s decision without rancour, it does prove possible. The final outcome is not the loss of a partner, but the realization that by letting go and distancing herself, Alice is in turn able to attain a new freedom.
Alice and Frank have been married for 18 years and are moving with their three children (and Taski their pet rabbit) to a new apartment in the Swiss countryside. From the outside they seem like the perfect nuclear family but as they arrange their furniture and settle into their new home, Alice notices that her husband seems far from excited about being there and is in fact positively distracted. When she prods him about this, Frank simply denies that anything is wrong but she is far from convinced with his protestations.
During the next week when she is at home working on the computer the whole family share, an unfamiliar window suddenly pops up on the screen. It’s a ‘welcome back’ message from a gay cruising site for men to meet men. An alarmed Anna nervously questions Robert her teenage son about the site and his sexuality, something which he just laughs off and tells her categorically he is 100% straight. When she questions Frank if it was him who had been on the Site, she got the answer that she had expected but certainly didn’t want.
Frank confesses that he was simply curious about other men, but Anna is not happy to leave it there, and over the next few weeks she continually chips away at him, until he eventually admits he has met a man and they have fallen in love with each other. Shocked and horrified Anna tries almost everything to understand her husband’s sexuality. Initially she is calm and overly considerate, but then after they go out on a ‘date’ together she sets about physically seducing Frank which totally backfires and she is devastated when he rejects her sexual advances.
The no-turning back point comes courtesy of the computer again when Anna is viewing the photographs she has downloaded from a family trip when she accidentally comes across a video that someone has obviously shot on Frank’s phone. It shows her husband dancing with Pablo his boyfriend amongst a crowd of other men and it is very clear that he is radiantly happy in a way that he has not been with her since they first get married.
Frank by now is staying out late most nights but although he still has very genuine feelings with Anna, the real reason he continues to come home is that their 7 year old daughter dotes on him. When one final attempt at seducing him back fails, Anna demands that he leaves for good.
Bereft of the husband and feeling isolated in the country apartment a rather confused and depressed Anna dramatically takes to her bed crying her eyes out and refusing to eat for days on end. Her two teenage children take charge of both her and their young sibling, until Anna finally realizes the helplessness of refusing to accept the change that has been heaped upon her. When she does take that on board, repaints the apartment, buys some new furniture, get a more contemporary hairstyle, and most importantly gets laid again, then life can finally move and everybody can happily ever after. Almost.
This taut wee Swiss drama neatly tackles the age-old problem of a marriage trying to survive when it becomes obvious that one of the partners should never had said ‘I do’ in the first place. It’s hard enough for women to accept that men in their life can be gay or bi-sexual but when they discover that their own partner is suddenly questioning their own sexuality after being married for so long, its usually quite devastating. Although newbie director and co-writer Claudia Lorenz says nothing new about this scenario, her take on this is compelling and very real, thanks mainly to her very talented cast. (queertiques.com)