[originally published on Medium]
Signe Baumane’s My Love Affair with Marriage is not your standard children’s animation. Though it does feature adults spewing lessons about purity, “Be a virgin until you’re married,” or how a young girl’s sole responsibility is to find love “Marriage is your destiny. You should patiently wait, you’re not a complete person without your soulmate.” Baumane’s feature is not here to reinforce those archaic and sexist ideologies, but instead, she’s here to examine and dismantle them, almost like an anti-patriarchal Sherlock Holmes.
“I wanted to write a story about my second marriage. And [I thought] it [would be] a very dramatic and highly enticing story.” Baumane tells The Black Cape, “But then I realized while writing the script that I had an even bigger question. Why did we even want to get married? Then that lead to, why did we fall in love and how did that happen?”
My Love Affair with Marriage is a whimsical yet visceral and unflinching story surrounding the sexual education and self-love journey of a Latvian artist growing up under the repressive regime of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s named Zelma (Dagmara Dominczyk, The Lost Daughter). It’s a unique film that cleverly combines the biological and psychological reasons why a young woman might be vulnerable to manipulative men and emotionally abusive relationships.
“I hope people walk away with having watched this inventive piece of art that moves the needle forward […] It approaches universal topics about things that women and people in relationships are up against in ways that are brave, bold, strange, and wonderful,” Dominczyk says about the film’s mature messaging. “Any time there’s a piece of art that is insightful and profound, like this one, you [shouldn’t just] walk away with just answers, but also more questions that you’re willing to ask yourself.”
In this interview, we talk to Baumane and Dominczyk about their relationships with love, motherhood, and the power of defeating the patriarchy.
[edited for length and clarity]
Black Cape: This movie is so cool because it’s equal parts educational, semi-autobiographical, and fictional. Was it always planned to be this way?
Signe Baumane: When I started out, like a lot of things, you don’t know how it’s gonna end, you know? For example, I had no idea how painful and how much fundraising we would have to do [to make this project]. It took seven years to finish the film from the moment I started writing the script. It was a long process. I wanted to write a story about my second marriage. I was married, briefly to a self-described gender-bending man. And [I thought] it [would be] a very dramatic and highly enticing story. But then I realized while writing the script that I had an even bigger question. Why did we even want to get married? Then that led to, why did we fall in love and how did that happen?
So, I started going back in time [metaphorically] because I wanted to get to the bottom of [this idea of marriage]. And I somehow started to understand [that the concept of love is based on] cultural forces and also biological needs. Cultural [influences] are easy to represent [via] songs, and conversations with your friends and family. But then, there’s the biology aspect of it, which is ultimate objectivity, which you cannot ignore. So, I wanted to peel off a little bit of the mystery of this very overhyped human emotion —love.
In the movie, Zelma falls in love with a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white guy and talks about the stigma between such a match in Ukraine. Dagmara, I was thinking, though you are Polish, did you find your character’s experience relatable in terms of your marriage to Patrick Wilson?
Dagmara Dominczyk: One of the things that drew me to the script was this idea of the universal human experience beyond biology. Love is the desire to be seen for who you are. But, of course, culture [can also] inform us of a lot. For example, how we are taught to behave and how we are seen by others. With these Eastern European countries, under the Soviets, with all of these tenets about how everyone has to be the same for the greater good, I understood that. And I [also] understood the misogyny that comes with that. How men are taught to be men and women are taught to be women. And you know, that’s your f — king lane and you stay in it. I knew that, and I could take it in with a sense of humor. You know, I have aunties who are like Zelma and who are like Zelma’s mother. And I knew it in like a shorthand way, that our culture was everything. And years of oppression [under that regime] led to xenophobia which seeped into the culture.
I came [to the US] when I was seven, so when it came to Patrick, yes in a way [there was a notion of stigma], but I grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn in a diverse environment around a lot of Polish refugees. My parents looked white, but they didn’t speak English. My mom was a housekeeper, and my dad was a cabby. Like we, we felt othered, even though we looked like we weren’t other, and so that helped along the way, but our culture was still seeped into [my upbringing] here. And I would spend every summer with my grandmother back [in Poland.] So a lot of that was [instilled] in me, but my [American surroundings] around cool kids in the city and high school, transformed me into a much different creature than had I stayed in Poland and seeped in that environment longer.
When I met Patrick, I was a product of this country, but still had some very Polish [influence] stuck inside me. He and his family were like the Brady Bunch complete with white picket fences. And I come from this fucking different dimension. [laughs] My family had ration cards, we bought our clothes by the pound from Dorsey’s Warehouse, my grandma smoked cigarettes. His family was Southern, like the salt of the earth, good America, TV America. So yes, there was a part that I felt like I had to explain my culture, justify it, and unpack it for him. And then there was a part of me that felt like ‘I’m gonna take you apart a little bit, white boy,’ you know? [laughs] But we loved each other so much, and we were drawn to each other, it all worked. He’s been to Poland countless times, and we love each other beyond our culture. We formed our own nation with our kids being raised in the good of both.
How do you hope this film is perceived in both of your countries of origin and those who live here in the US?
SB: I hope the film plays well in Latvia and New York. I think the audience here will be able to see this different world because you know, the film is about a country that doesn’t exist anymore. It also has this feeling of being a fairytale, but it’s not.
DD: I hope people walk away with having watched this inventive, piece of art that moves the needle forward. […] It approaches universal topics about things that women and people in relationships are up against in ways that are brave, bold, strange, and wonderful. Any time there’s a piece of art that is insightful and profound, like this one, you [shouldn’t just] walk away with just answers, but also more questions that you’re willing to ask yourself. And I think that’s what this will provide. And I think in Poland specifically, misogyny is still a national disease, and women are still fighting for their rights and queer people are still fighting for their rights and we’ve got a long way to go.
I’m curious to see how this movie is received by the young crowd, since, you know, we’ve always used art as a way to rebel against an oppressive government.
Did being a mother of two sons also make you view this film in a different light?
DD: Lately, I’ve thought a lot about how to regain my womanhood after being in motherhood for such a long time. Now at 45, seeing my sons who are almost 13 and 16, becoming young men and learning about who they are, [I think about just] how it is so important and more necessary to teach our sons that no matter how they identify or who they love or who they are attracted to that being authentic matters. And understanding how their actions impact others matters. My son is 16. He has his first girlfriend. And I want to show him this movie just as much as I wanna show his girlfriend. So, I’m thinking now, as motherhood to me now is not just keeping my kids safe, but making sure that they’re becoming human beings who impact the world in a really positive way. And that’s a bigger task. [laughs] But I’m really excited about this movie being out in the world.
My Love Affair With Marriage is playing at the Tribeca Film Festival 2022.