There’s a common misconception that does the rounds, which is that men are simple beings and women are complex individuals. That’s not even an oversimplification, but a downright lie. Simplicity and complexity aren’t limited to a certain sex or gender (yes, they are different concepts and yet deeply intertwined). The very intricacies of our body’s biology prevent us from being so binary. Everyone wants to live in a simple fashion, but the ups and downs of life itself force us to find complicated solutions. Despite having the entire society revolving around them, men have made their lives and the lives of women difficult, even causing some women to promote patriarchy and misogyny. “My Love Affair With Marriage” is a distillation of all these aspects and a personal story, all wrapped in an envelope of empathy and hope.
Written, directed, produced, co-set designed, co-edited (with Sturgis Warner), shot, and animated by Signe Baumane, the semi-autobiographical musical, “My Love Affair With Marriage,” primarily focuses on Zelma (Dagmara Dominczyk). The story starts in 1970 and follows her till she is in her late 20s. She is from Sakhalin Island and lives with her parents and sister, eventually settling in a place called Riga in Latvia.
When she starts going to school, she sees the casual sexism, and internalized misogyny, and learns how to navigate all this without losing her identity. Her teenage and adult years are defined by her relationships with three men: Jonas (Stephen Lang), Sergei (Cameron Monaghan), and, finally, Bo (Matthew Modine). Through them, Zelma learns (and shows us) how manipulative, insecure, and abusive men can be. And what it takes to unlearn the lessons of that trauma. Also, all of this is narrated by a friendly neuron, voiced by Michele Pawk.
The visuals in “My Love Affair With Marriage” are stunning. But not in a gorgeous, lavish way. It’s a little morbid, rough-around-the-edges, and reminiscent of German Expressionism. It’s like the lovechild of “Peanuts,” “Fantastic Planet,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and stop-motion films like “Anomalisa.” Here’s why. The character animation is very fidgety and, at times, even odd, hence the “Peanuts” and “Fantastic Planet” comparison.
The environments these characters inhabit, though, look like physical miniatures, which are lit with physical lighting, courtesy of Sturgis Warner. Hence the “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” comparison, which popularized the use of 2D animation in a live-action environment. And the “Anomalisa” comparison is to give an idea of the texture of those miniatures. The parts that are wholly animated are the biology sections, by Yajun Shi, and they are amazing. And did I mention how abstract it is and how well it externalizes the subjective look into Zelma’s experiences? In fact, the whole animation department deserves a huge round of applause.
Coming to the subject matter, “My Love Affair With Marriage” tackles womanhood from biological, personal, and societal angles. The biological aspect doesn’t just serve as an extra bit of sauce on the three-course meal that the movie is. But it basically serves as a chapter of sex education. Everyone around Zelma (and then Zelma herself), irrespective of their gender, tries to stereotype her. As it is something that society does to women in general, this perspective humanizes Zelma and lets you see the long-term biological impacts of said stereotyping on her brain and her psyche.
Girls are mocked for not being too open to getting intimate or shamed for having a lot of it or for craving attention or for wanting to be alone, or for loving their job. This scientific analysis analyzes the scenarios that lead to such decisions and concludes that it is immature to label a person for something so chemical and natural.
“My Love Affair With Marriage” touches upon the politicization of women and marriage, which is a topic that’s gradually being highlighted. Since Signe is from Latvia and this is a semi-autobiographical movie, she shows the two under the light of Communism, of course. But these are threads that are woven through societies all over the world and in countries run by various political regimes. The level of bigotry in the current government defines who is responsible for upholding the values of a marriage (hint: it’s usually the woman).
They also force heterosexuality on everybody and demonize homosexuality, thereby stunting one’s self-exploration. If you want to marry someone from another community, various barriers are put in front of you, which will tire you until you accept what the system deems “normal.” And even though these rules and regulations are put in place by men, they’ll never send their own to therapy or accept their changes, thereby letting them decay and causing rot in others (read: women).
Amidst all this, I don’t know how Signe manages to find optimism. Through her character’s realization that things don’t need to be so binary, Signe highlights the importance of introspection so that you don’t dump your trauma on others. Through finding empathy for those who are going through a similar journey instead of trying to “fix” the worst of the worst. And through the amazingly written and performed songs, “My Love Affair With Marriage” ends up being such an endearing beacon of hope. In addition to the voice-acting by Dominczyk, Pawk, Modine, Monaghan, Lang, and everyone in the cast are out of this world. If you don’t want to punch Sergei and hug Zelma and Bo for the performances alone, what is wrong with you?
All in all, “My Love Affair With Marriage” is essential viewing for all. There are some “explicit” scenes in the film, which are largely educational in nature. That’s why, and as mentioned before, it should be included as a chapter of sex education in schools, colleges, universities, work places (in case they are a working adult without any sex education), and homes. This is Signe’s story, yes, and one that is worth hearing. But on top of that, it’s such an astute encapsulation of the kind of people and situations a woman has to encounter just to live peacefully. Women who are living similar stories will probably not find anything new in this book. Instead, they’ll probably find it relatable, motivational, and a reminder of their traumas. So, women, watching this is up to you. On the other hand, every single cis-het man should definitely watch this because it’ll certainly be eye-opening.
“My Love Affair With Marriage” is a 2022 semi-autobiographical animated musical directed by Signe Baumane.