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West Wittering Affair, The
A weekend in the country irrevocably alters the lives of four middle-class Londoners in this charming sex comedy by first-time director David Scheinmann. Using methods reminiscent of the films of Mike Leigh, the skeletal storyline written by co-stars Danny Scheinmann and Sarah Sutcliffe is given flesh through the improvisation of the small ensemble. There are no scripted laughs, but plenty of cause for grins during the film's 92 minutes.
Kath (Sarah Sutcliffe), desperate for sex after a six-month dry spell, invites Jamie (Danny Scheinmann), an everyman who never wins, for a getaway to a friend's empty weekend home in West Wittering. To make her romantic plans appear less contrived, she invites along her best friend Natasha (Rebecca Cardinale) and Natasha's boyfriend Greg (David Annen). Things begin to go awry when Natasha, having discovered signs that Greg's been unfaithful, arrives without him.
Though the evening begins uncomfortably with a burnt dinner and Natasha gloomy over Greg, wine loosens everyone up. Though all retire to their separate bedrooms, what follows is invocative of a Woody Allen farce. Jamie ends up in bed with Natasha, after which, on his way back to his room, he's jumped by Kath whom he beds as well. The next morning, Jamie does everything in his power to prevent Kath and Natasha from learning that he'd been with the other. Of course this being a sex comedy, he's unsuccessful, and they take their revenge on him in a deliciously raw manner that leaves Jamie traumatized.
Back in the city, Jamie seeks counseling. Unfortunately, for everyone concerned, he inadvertently winds up on the couch of Natasha's boyfriend Greg, who soon deduces that Jamie's one-night stand was with his girlfriend, Natasha. The subsequent scene of Greg using his authority as Jamie's therapist to subtlety skewer him are pitch perfect. From here, the plot moves in unexpected directions that has the four characters still dealing with the events of that weekend in West Wittering three years later. Only when the four characters are finally brought together can they all move on.
Made with almost no budget, shooting on digital video, and setting scenes in the homes of the actors and crew, The West Wittering Affair was shot on three three-day shoots spread over three years. The lengthy delays between shooting works in the film's favor because the natural aging of the actors provides a splendid infusion of authenticity to the film.
The weakness of the film is in cinematography that competes with the actors for the viewers' attention. Almost every novelty technique ever tried in a home video finds its way into this film: extreme lens flare, shifts in focus, random slowdowns in video speed, overexposed images, dirt and water on the lens, and, excessive handheld camera movement galore. Thankfully, these tricks subside somewhat as the film progresses, moving from glaringly aggravating to subtly annoying.
The image quality is rather poor. Recorded on digital video and theatrically released in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Lifesize Entertainment has authored this disc in a non-enhanced, 1.77:1 aspect ratio. Interlacing of the image due to a haphazard PAL to NTSC port is also readily apparent. The lack of commitment to image quality here is appalling.
The feature presentation sports a pleasing 5.1 Dolby digital audio track that mixes the actors' dialogue and the soundtrack well. Unfortunately, the audio levels on the extras have not been balanced with the feature film. Be prepared to turn the sound way down for the Interview with the director and Music from the Film extras.
The extras are a mixed bag. The first of five, entitled, Dr. Andrew Holland's Sex Clinic Infomercial is mirthless satire best missed. The second extra is an audio-only Interview with the director that provides some interesting insights into how the film was made sandwiched between actual advertisements for the interviewer's products. This is followed by an 18 minute segment, entitled Men's group, that includes longer versions of segments used in the feature. Next, Music from the Film includes four uncut songs from the soundtrack. Finally, there's a theatrical trailer.
The DVD offers no subtitles, but the middle-class London accents should be easily understandable by most American viewers.
The West Wittering Affair is an enjoyable no-budget British sex comedy, in which the small ensemble does a splendid job of fleshing out the contrived storyline. Unfortunately, poor cinematography and poor image quality sabotage what is otherwise a fine film. Rent it.