Hungarian director IldikÃ³ Enyedi is fascinated by the idea of ââcontrol. Or, more precisely, the human desire to control those we love – and the consequences of pushing that desire too far. His entry-level “My Wife’s Story” attempts to explore these themes, adapting the 1942 Hungarian novel of the same name following a man’s unsuccessful attempts to control his mysterious wife.
In one of the opening scenes of “My Wife’s Story”, Captain Jakob StÃ¶rr (Gijs Naber) makes a bet that he will marry the first woman who walks into a cafe. Fortunately (or ultimately unfortunately) for him, this woman is the charming and elusive Lizzy, played by a charming LÃ©a Seydoux. StÃ¶rr is dazzled by Lizzy’s distant and witty jokes and marries her almost immediately; the majority of the film then follows her frustrated attempts to verify her hunch that she is cheating on him.
Set in the Roaring Twenties, the film’s elaborate sets, gorgeous costumes, and flapper-girl sense of flair give its romantic setting a rich life. The charismatic Lizzy is always impeccably dressed and the film is full of lavish and sparkling parties that are a visual treat for the viewer. Marcell Rev’s excellent cinematography also adds to the film’s sense of elegance; in a scene of Lizzy and Jakob dancing, RÃ©v’s camera creates a dance in itself. The camera eye follows Lizzy’s neck as she dives, zooms in on her hands against a sparkling sunset, and holds the pair in frame against a blurry mass of other bodies.
Sadly, “My Wife’s Story” has little substance beyond its sparkling luster, and its meandering message of love, relationships, and control is unclear at best and contradictory at worst. Lizzy and Jakob have a confusing and largely unloving relationship, which isn’t particularly surprising for two people who got married after meeting each other. Lizzy remains freezing and impenetrable, and her lack of discernible emotions or personality makes her feel more like a male fantasy than a person. Enyedi told The Hollywood Reporter that this lack of development is intentional: Enyedi wanted to deliberately use the male gaze to tell a story about how StÃ¶rr’s patriarchal worldview makes him unable to understand his wife. But without a lot of personality on Lizzy’s part, there can’t be true chemistry for the two of them, and it’s hard to put down roots in a relationship where no one else seems truly happy. Plus, the message itself – about letting go of the need to control the other person – seems very compromised by a surprise twist at the end of the movie.
In nearly three hours, “My Wife’s Story” only gives audiences one developed character (which isn’t particularly convincing), an odd relationship that hardly seems worth saving, and a confused and undermined message about trust and control. For those fascinated by 1920s fashion or long shots of sea captains looking at the ocean, this might be worth watching; but for most viewers, there isn’t much beneath the film’s sparkling surface.