It only seems appropriate that there’s an overwhelming quality to the voiceover in “My Love Affair with Marriage” when Zelma’s internal monologue lives so large inside her own head. Raised in Riga, Latvia after her family fled Russia’s Sakhalin Island in 1970, she was brought up by her mother to believe that the worst was still ahead when she was likely to get married to someone she wouldn’t love and have the responsibility of holding the marriage together, imparting the advice that she should love the resulting children more than the husband she bore them with since he would inevitably disappoint. Whether this would be true or not, the words became so ingrained in Zelma’s head that anything that happened after was likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Still, her body rebels in Signe Baumane’s delightful second feature which follows the director’s “Rocks in My Pockets,” a look at how her family tree was bedeviled by depression that was animated in more ways than one. Baumane’s inventive style that positions 2D hand-drawn animation atop 3D physical environments is apt for a film where Zelma (voiced by Dagmara Dominczyk), clearly drawn loosely from the filmmaker’s autobiography, is caught between two worlds at all times, moving further and further away from her homeland as her life as an artist takes her to Moscow and Toronto and her physical impulses are always at odds with the ideas her mother put in her mind all that time ago, cycling through a series of partners who indeed disappoint, though you can never be entirely sure how much her expectations are muddying the waters. Much attention is given to the biological sensations Zelma feels as she starts to come into her own as a woman, grappling with a rise in oxytocin levels as she comes to realize she’s got a controlling husband in Sergei (Cameron Monaghan), and enters a “microbial bond” with Bo (Matthew Modine), a second husband who she kisses to communicate when the two don’t share a common language otherwise.
The internal machinations of the body make sense of Zelma’s complicated thought process, as do a trio of sirens that amplifies where her head is at for better or worse, and “My Love Affair with Marriage” becomes disarming in rearranging the traumatic into the sublime when the sensory overload that can overwhelm its main character is channeled into such creative ends that you know it’s what the artist ultimately turned to for survival. Complete with musical numbers and LSD trips, the film reaches transcendent levels that make one lose track of all practical considerations as Zelma can at times, but Baumane never can be accused of the same thing, zeroing in on how women’s lives are shaped by cultural attitudes that predate them and how difficult it is to break free from even on an individual level. Still, with something as singular and stylish as “My Love Affair with Marriage,” Baumane can’t help but stand apart.
“My Love Affair with Marriage” will screen at Tribeca on June 19th at 4 pm at the Village East.