Karlovy Vary review: My Love Affair With Marriage (2022)

Courtesy of Karlovy Vary film festival

Patriarchy was no different in Soviet Union and all the “independent” countries and territories it had under control than in the capitalist world. Growing up in Soviet Latvia, Signe Baumane knows what she is talking about in her latest animation feature My Love Affair with Marriage that premiered earlier this year at Tribeca, before hitting Annecy and Karlovy Vary.

Baumane is actually best known for her previous animated feature, Rocks in My Pockets (2014) which was heavily autobiographical chronicle of her failed relationships. My Love Affair with Marriage walks the similar, yet not exactly the same path, since the autobiographical parts and notions are turned down to a measure and the specific story leads to a more of universal discovery.

Since her childhood, our protagonist Zelma (voiced by Dagmara Dominczyk) listened that she would not be complete if she didn’t find her soulmate and got married, and the loudest were the women from her immediate surroundings on the Sakhalin Islands off the Pacific coast of Soviet Union where she grew up. Then and there, she adopted a cat as her spiritual animal for its independence and wild spirit. When she and her family moved to Riga in time for her to start school, she was considered weird and un-girly by her peers because she would fight rather than smile and be submissive. She gave up on her first crush when she realized that she was not even on his radar and that he was a type of character who would follow the leader in bullying actions.

But when the hormones kick in, she stars craving for the attention of men, following the guidelines she was fed all her childhood: to marry as a virgin and to keep her marriage at the expense of her own happiness. First attempt with an older Lithuanian artist Jonas (Stephen Lang) did not work out. The second one with a Russian wannabe painter Sergei (Cameron Monaghan) turned out to be a disaster due to his character and the ability to be a weakling and an abuser at the same time. The third one with the gentle Swede Bo (Matthew Modine) fell under the weight of his secret and all the things she accepted from her upbringing and tried to enforce on him.

On that level, My Love Affair with Marriage plays out like a slightly auto-fictional “buildungsroman”, following its protagonist in her misadventures of growing up and learning who and what she really is, while deflecting or submitting to the pressures of society. On that level, there are some additional twists: the chorus of hen-like unnamed women who try to mould Zelma into the patriarchal world-view they adopted, and the sheer subversion of the use of poppy songs in different sub-genres, which is the key feature of the family friendly Disney et al. production companies that made their name by painting an idealized picture of patriarchy and social conservativism. The animation, however, is not even a little bit Disney-like, it is simply hand-drawn 2D, cut out and put in movement through stop-motion technology against the 3D animated backgrounds.

But there is also another level, or layer that serves as an explanation coming from the field of biology and physiology of the nervous system, narrated from a perspective of a brain cell (voice of Michelle Pawk), which plays out like an educational documentary special. It was also animated completely differently, digitally by Yajun Shi, but the way it intersects the main story is pretty masterful.

My Love Affair with Marriage is an animated film aimed at adult audiences, interestingly envisioned and told well enough to keep us occupied almost until the very end. The ending is a bit problematic and feels almost like a betrayal since that part of the plot ceases to be Zelma’s story as she becomes a supporting character in her own film. However, the hook Baumane has planted in the earlier stages of the plot has sunk deep enough to make us think about the deeper implications. The battle against patriarchy is a complex and long one, given that it is rooted in almost every societal system know to the humankind so far and in upbringing aimed in repeating the tradition rather than changing it.

Runtime: 107’
Countries: USA, Latvia, Luxembourg
Language: English
Directed by: Signe Baumane
Written by: Signe Baumane
Voice cast: Dagmara Dominczyk, Michelle Pawk, Matthew Modine, Cameron Monaghan, Stephen Lang
Animated by: Signe Baumane, Yajun Shi
Cinematography by: Signe Baumane
Editing by: Signe Baumane, Sturgis Warner
Music by: Kristian Sensini
Sound by: Pierre Vedovato
Produced by: Signe Baumane, Sturgis Warner, Roberts Vinovskis, Raoul Nadalet
Production companies: Studio Locomotive, The Marriage Project, Antevita Films
Sales by: New Europe Film Sales