An Affair to Remember

Leo McCarey, USA, 1957, Théâtre du Temple


At the start of the sequence there’s no dialogue to tell us where Nickie is heading. With very simple, tight storytelling, we see a single moving shot, tilting upwards, recalling the movement of the climb up to the house from the first time we saw the characters drive up to Villefranche. We come to understand that we are returning to the Grandmother’s house, and we start to feel why, too. This wide, distant shot without characters has the feel of a post card, placing it firmly in a nostalgic register, as a place of memories. Coming into his grandmother’s garden Nickie enters the shot as if walking into a memory, seen from behind in his grey suit. He takes off his hat, as if entering a sacred place, and we come to realise – without the use of dialogue - that his grandmother has died. We see similar shots to the last time we were in this space, shot wide and long, so as to give scale and importance to the place. Nickie feels the need to touch the objects in the living room, as it verify that they are real, solid and don’t fade away like sand running through his fingers. With the return of the sound, the music that was played in the space played at length, the filmmaker makes the memory more concrete. First, he touches the piano, then the back of the chair, as if to feel the weight and warmth of the body that had occupied it until recently, his grandmother. Then, with a moment of hesitation, holding his emotions tightly in check, with restraint, modesty and dignity, he touches the chair where Terry sat. A useless gesture, but one that is significant for him. Nickie’s reverie is broken by the sudden arrival of the caretaker. Places have their inhabitants, their witnesses and employees whose existence outside of the frame comes before and after the transient visitors to the space. This secondary character becomes a messenger when they offer the shawl that Terry gave to the grandmother back to Nickie, providing an encouragement for the couple to meet again, approved from the next world.  It is at this point that Nickie takes up his position between two armchairs, in the absence of the two women who once filled them, before the shot fades to black.