'An Affair' ('En Affaere'): Film Review

Courtesy of Bergen International Film Festival
More psychologically penetrating than its peers.

A teacher grows obsessed with a student in Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken's Nordic drama.

Unabashedly taking sides in a salacious scenario that — these days especially — we know is more lopsided than it appears, Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken's An Affair follows a school teacher through a short-lived sexual relationship with an attractive student. Easily capturing the erotic charge of their encounter and the less enjoyable but similarly intense emotional states that follow, the film relies on a sensitive performance by star Andrea Braein Hovig (as the teacher) to carry it through action that might have tipped into lurid histrionics. These are hardly uncharted waters for art house films, but Dahlsbakken's highly subjective treatment makes the picture appealing for Stateside import.

Hovig plays Anita, who is introduced to us, pointedly, in a shot that trails behind during her morning jog: The camera rises up from her ankles as if to prove that, while a teenager might guess (as one says later, with the stupidity of youth) she's "like, 50 years old," she's nevertheless capable of attracting unsolicited attention from a hormonal boy.

Married to a high-powered lawyer who seems embarrassed that she feels the need to work, Anita is just beginning a job as the PE teacher at the local high school. Doing the "tell us your name and a fun fact about you" thing on the first day of class, she's unsettled when one boy (Tarjei Sandvik Moe) says, bragging or joking or both, "I'm Markus, and I've got a big dick." Not a good night for Anita's husband to ignore her at bedtime, sitting indifferently at his laptop when she nestles closer to him.

Almost immediately — for better or worse, Dahlsbakken's film has no time for filler — Anita finds herself alone in a locker room with Markus, an innocent moment that turns dangerous but is quickly interrupted. Not so with a later encounter, when the boy joins her in a parked car after others have left campus.

Objectively, Markus is the aggressor here, stalking Anita outside school until he gets what he wants. But once initiated, the affair consumes Anita, even (or especially) when she begins to doubt that he sees it as an affair. She becomes addicted to her phone, checking for texts and watching his social media; she sees his body when her husband touches her; she notices, bitterly, the bodies of swimsuit-clad teenage girls who walk beside the pool when her class goes swimming. Soon, she's engaging in lies and manipulations that might make the most self-centered high school mean girl think twice.

But Hovig's raw, infected performance makes it seem like Anita has no choice in these matters. That's a privilege usually given to middle-aged male characters in films like this, and An Affair handles the gender-flip easily. Here, being a woman means it's very easy for Anita to invade Markus' private life, and to sabotage his budding romance with a more appropriate partner. It also means she risks a different kind of humiliation if what she's doing is discovered. As things collapse, the movie forgets about some strands of plots as if, as is true for Anita, nothing else in her past matters anymore. Family, friends and ultimately Markus drop away from its view as it watches her face, quietly contemplating an overturned world.

Production company: FilmBros
Distributor: SF Studios
Cast: Andrea Bræin Hovig, Tarjei Sandvik Moe, Anneke von der Lippe, Carsten Bjørnlund, Agnes Kittelsen, Mads Ousdal, Mattis Herman Nyquist, Lea Meyer
Director-screenwriter-producer: Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken
Director of photography: Oskar Dahlsbakken
Costume designer: Miriam Lien
Editor: Vidar Flataukan
Composer: Stein Berge Svendsen
Venue: Bergen International Film Festival

In Norwegian and Danish with English subtitles
92 minutes