Film review – Conversations with Other Women (2005)

Directed by Hans Canosa and written by Gabrielle Zevin, Conversations with Other Women is a triumph of filmmaking. It is difficult to think of any other films in recent years that so unobtrusively manipulates film form in order to tell such an emotionally resonant story. The basic premise is a simple one – a man and a woman meet at a wedding they have both travelled to and decide to spend the night together before going home to their respective partners.

The impending affair is portrayed with a refreshing frankness that completely avoids either erotising the event or labouring it with condemnation. Although there is a melancholic sense of inevitability to the event, it is free of melodramatics or moralising. Part of the pleasure of watching Conversations with Other Women is gradually discovering the significance of the affair that is taking place. There are no shock revelations or twists but during the course of the film its apparently straightforward premise unravels into something far more meaningful.

Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter play the unnamed man and woman participating in this casual infidelity with effortless naturalism. Both actors give their characters a perfect blend of wit, cynicism and charisma in order to make their actions plausible and to make their interaction with each other so engaging. Other characters only make minor appearances so it is up to Eckhart and Carter to carry the whole film and they do so with ease.

One of the most defining features of Conversations with Other Women is that the entire film is shown in split screen, with one camera principally on Eckhart and the other on Carter. While split screens have been traditionally used to depict simultaneous events taking place in different cinematic spaces, much of the events taking place on the split screens in Conversation with Other Women occur in the same space. So for most of the film the audience see the same event taking place from two different angles.

However, this split screen technique is far from being a gimmick as it is used to facilitate the narrative and character development in a way that traditional cinematic techniques could not do. The composition, framing and camera angles in each screen are continually changing to suggest the constant changes in connection and status that the characters have to one another. Screens are also sometimes used to depict flashbacks, false memories, flashforwards or wishful thinking. The constant play of time, space and character subjectivity within the two screens generates a cinematic language that is subservient to the script and therefore far from being a case of style over substance.

The craftsmanship that has gone into making Conversations with Other Women is extraordinary. What is even more remarkable is that at no point does the film seem to be drawing attention to its craftsmanship in order to earn critical approval. Instead it is the relationship between the two unnamed characters that is the sole focus of this film. So from a critical distance we can admire the technical skill behind this film but as an audience member we are simply left deeply moved by a compelling and authentic story of regret and love lost.  

Originally appeared on the roundtable review,  May/June, 2007

© Thomas Caldwell, 2006
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