In Human Affairs, a New York power couple – playwright Sidney and his fiancée/lead actress Lucinda – want to have a child. With other options exhausted, they turn to a surrogate to help them become the parents they dream of being.
Their surrogate, Genevieve, is a young French woman who lives and works on a farm in Vermont. Played with quiet confidence by Julie Sokolowski, Genevieve is the kind of deceptively charming character that’s easy to root for. Even if you’re not sure you want to root for anyone in this 2018 Slamdance Film Festival drama.
Sidney develops feelings for he and his wife’s surrogate, and soon he and Genevieve are having long, deep conversations on the phone without Lucinda’s knowledge. When Genevieve, a few months pregnant, comes to the city for checkups and to stay with the couple, the passion she feels for Sidney cannot contain itself. Tensions are high, feelings get hurt, and everyone desperately seeks resolution.
Where Human Affairs transcends from a rote relational drama into a compelling piece of art is in its care for all its characters. In the world Director Charlie Birns creates, no one is villainized, even as Genevieve and Sidney’s emotional affair is given full weight for the impact it has on all parties involved. Without spoiling the powerful ending, a final montage provides a sense of peace that helps the film soar into a mode of transcendent compassion.
If there’s such a thing as compassionate cinematography, Sean Price Williams is a master at it. Between his work on Good Time and Human Affairs, Williams has shown himself to be consistently adept at positioning the camera to let the complex emotional worlds of the characters come to life. His work, and the film itself, leaves viewers with a lasting challenge: Can you love these humans as they are?