The Movie Waffler Dublin International Film Festival 2021 Review - FIDELITY | The Movie Waffler

Dublin International Film Festival 2021 Review - FIDELITY

fidelity review
Neglected by her husband, a young doctor seeks sexual gratification elsewhere.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nigina Sayfullaeva

Starring: Evgeniya Gromova, Aleksandr Pal, Marina Vasileva, Aleksey Agranovich

fidelity poster

Fresh from causing a stir on its release in its native Russia, director Nigina Sayfullaeva's sexually explicit Fidelity may well feel quaint to western viewers, arriving a couple of decades late to the party kicked off by the wave of graphic dramas that came out of France and the UK at the turn of the century. While it feels inspired by the likes of Catherine Breillat's Romance, Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy and Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs, it stops short of asking its actors to perform any actual sexual deeds, and the nudity is notably restricted to its attractive female lead.

fidelity review

The striking Evgeniya Gromova is Lena, a successful doctor whose marriage to stage actor Sergei (Aleksandr Pal) has grown stale and passionless. Lena is desperate to have her sexual needs taken care of, but Sergei refuses to indulge her, claiming that "sex without passion is worse than no sex." Who can blame her then when inspired by paranoia that Sergei is cheating with the lead actress in his latest play, Lena decides to seek pleasure elsewhere? A trip to a nightclub results in a disappointing motel encounter with a horny young one-pump-and-done merchant. A few days later she's being rogered by a mechanic on the beach, only to be interrupted by the police. When the mechanic turns out to be the hubby of one of Lena's patients, both her career and marriage are suddenly under threat.

fidelity review

Fidelity follows such a well-trodden path by Western European standards that it often comes off as a Slavic film playing Gallic dress-up. A recurring motif sees Lena constantly studying her reflection, and as a film, Fidelity feels similarly self-conscious. It's all too aware of how revolutionary it is in terms of Russian cinema, which has long been notably chaste regarding sexuality. But while it may feel like we've been here before with various Binoches, Deneuves and Hupperts in the lead role, it's this very self-consciousness that makes Fidelity stand out. There's a sense that much like recent feminist works from the Middle East, this is a movie constantly looking over its shoulder in fear of censorship while looking to the west for approval.

Even by Western European standards, there's something refreshing about Fidelity's disdain for moral judgment. As we watch Lena cheat on her man-child husband, we're not tut-tutting and thinking "Poor old Sergei," but rather "Good for you Lena!" Sayfullaeva gets us so onside with her anti-heroine's emotionally misguided but perhaps psychologically necessary journey that when she's confronted by the wronged spouses of both herself and the mechanic, our contempt is not directed at Lena but at her accusers. Both Sergei and the mechanic's wife seem obsessed with rubbing Lena's face in the graphic details of her extra-marital sex, as though they're disgusted at sex itself more so than the idea of their other halves taking another lover.

fidelity review

Our empathy towards Lena is greatly enhanced by a quietly attention-grabbing performance by Gromova, who really sells Lena's frustrations. It's notable that Lena seems most comfortable with herself when she's naked, constantly throwing away her clothes as though she feels soiled by such coverings, like a reverse Eve. Her marriage to Sergei appears doomed from the start because she's out of his league by every conceivable metric – she's a woman who's found herself living with a boy, something many female viewers will likely identify with in this age of unprecedented arrested development among adult men. Lena is the most mature and enlightened character in the film, but the rest try to gaslight her into believing she's the villain. Ultimately, Sayfullaeva suggests that women like Lena are progressing at a rate that Russia is unwilling to keep up with.

 played online at the Dublin International Film Festival.

2021 movie reviews