My Love Affair with Marriage (2023) dir. Signe Baumane // BOSTON HASSLE

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Despite experiences that feel circumstantially unique, the stages of girlhood seem to cement an universality. The oscillations of emotional and physical changes against the hardened, tough-shit adversities of growing up is familiar to anyone, but for women, the dial is turned up. Whether in the city rumbles or the corn-field tumbles, women are shaped by expectations set by ancestors and societies with unnamed and irrational rules. My Love Affair with Marriage, a story from Latvian animator and filmmaker Signe Baumane, confirms that it’s brutal out here.

Semi-based on Baumane’s life, My Love Affair follows a fictional Zelma over the course of 23 years. The duty of marriage, instilled in her ten-year-old head as a romantic, fulfilling prophecy, seems to besiege her interactions with male peers when she is relocated from a small village to a school. She romanticizes her relationships with men in future-sweeping fantasies that are both normalized and dangerous, but that we see as being par for the course. Growing up in the woods, Zelma will sometimes be portrayed as a feral cat, attempting to dress and declaw into conformity (unsuccessfully). She soon develops a crush on a quiet boy, but when she is later threatened by a group of boys to take her money and sees the boy hanging in the back of the group, Zelma realizes that there is no use crushing on a hooligan. Thank you, next.

Zelma’s subsequent failures with her next few marriages (this shouldn’t come as a spoiler, as the title hints that the relationship between Zelma and marriage is but a fleeting union) serve as rough lesson points to advance to the next disappointing stage. For women who have been in the position of being undervalued and controlled, Zelma’s path to learning more about the world and herself might feel like small victories, albeit bleak. There is verbal and physical abuse that give the story a sense of cyclic dreariness, but there are also the frustrating contraindications that help give shape to its relatability. As a child, Zelma is told not to lose her virginity until marriage. She then beds with an older man who promises marital eternity, only to be ghosted by him shortly after. When she becomes a young adult, Zelma marries a man who later reveals to be condescending and derisive, stating that she’s lucky that someone is willing to be with her despite her history.

Despite the misfortunes that’d normally necessitate an Alanis line sprinkled here, My Love Affair with Marriage has a quiet, distinctive voice in its animation and narrative. The story holds less hostility and more wistfulness. The choice in mixed media — traditional pencil art drawn by Baumane placed on 3D sets coated by paper-mâché — creates a kind of fabled storybook that you’d find in an attic. Polish actress Dagmara Domińczyk, who you can find in the background of a couple of young female-focused stories this year, voices Zelma as she ages. The film also shares different perspectives of girlhood. Michele Pawk narrates the biological changes that betray Zelma’s desires (there probably isn’t another narrative feature or educational video that has used oxytocin as a featured character like this film does). Additionally, Zelma’s thoughts, fears, and anxiety are placed into song and dance by an interluding trio of sirens, which echoes a well-trodden passage. Girlhood might feel like a one-person journey, but whether it’s dissected by scientific explanation or cemented by myth, there is probably nothing less relieving than to air those grievances out (and then, eventually, Alanis).

My Love Affair with Marriage
dir. Signe Baumane
108 min.

Screened Monday, 10/30 @ Kendall

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