Going for the intimated sexual politics play on words of the title with perverse determination, An American Affair combines those two classic questions: where were you when JFK was assassinated, and also when you lost your virginity. If that peculiar juxtaposition of incongruous ideas seems a bit on the flaky though somewhat fascinating side, you’ve already figured out the tenor of this movie.
Directed by Swedish born first time filmmaker William Sten Olsson, An American Affair is marked by the kind of youthful outsider looking in point of view that can convey a best and worst of both worlds more candid, unflinching scrutiny of the hot topic distant history at hand. But while suffering on the other hand from an unfamiliarity with a deeply embedded social sensibility.
And what gives Olsson a somewhat but no means complete pass in these matters of cultural precision, is the fact that the protagonist is an impressionable thirteen year old, barely making sense himself of the acceleration of current events taking place during the Cold War era Bay Of Pigs CIA orchestrated invasion of communist Cuba, and the subsequent assassination of JFK. Cameron Bright is Adam, a rebellious DC Catholic school boy from a comfortable upper middle class family of full time mom ‘n pop journalists and part time parents. Prone to getting into fist fights at school in an era where looming social tensions are already palpable, the voyeuristic latchkey kid also starts obsessing about a mysterious, glamorous new neighbor across the way.
Catherine (Gretchen Mol), it turns out, is a party hard socialite divorced from a CIA company man, and who is visited under cover of night for sexual encounters, by none other than JFK. But rather than discouraging the boy from now complicated further pursuit of his infatuation with this seductive older woman, his raging hormones are set into high gear. And he insinuates himself into her life by convincing the amused when not annoyed femme fatale to hire him to do chores around her property, while spying through her windows and secretly reading her mail.
Eventually all sorts of narrative strands become inextricably tangled, as DC seems to turns into a city populated with multiple stalkers, underage and otherwise, some motivated by sex, others by politics, and still most others by both. There’s also a diary Adam snatches from the distressed hottie, revealing disturbing clues leading up to the JFK assassination and who may be implicated. No wonder an observation is made that the communists must be having more fun.
An American Affair possesses a potent sense of drama deriving from the sustained connection of its troubled characters to their shared volatile historical moment. And while the conspiracy theories of a political and carnal nature alike tend to lean toward the goofy side, there are enough satisfying sinister machinations afoot here, to keep the provocative dramatic tensions on consistent high alert.
Screen Media Films
2 1/2 stars