The film “5 to 7” (2014) gets its title from the hours in France during which each half of a married couple is allowed to engage in an adulterous relationship. This is not to be mistaken for a fling. What transpires is neither clandestine nor transitory. We’re talking about a deep involvement, the sort where two individuals confide in one another life goals and childhood secrets and introduce family. Whether this is a newfangled French custom or one that dates back to the days of Marie Antoinette is beyond me. In the two years that I lived in Paris some 25 years ago, I was aware of the candid attitude the French have towards sexuality. Burlesque shows attract tourists of both genders young and old to applaud topless ladies as they perform trapeze acts. Hustlers in those days loitered at the Trocadero, and transvestite hookers conducted their business at the Bois de Bologne. They might still do. Then again, prostitution is universal. Consensual adultery, however, at a designated time after work and before dinner like a cocktail, now that’s something else. Had I been straight, I might have heard of this custom. I might have had a relationship with a gorgeous mother of two and wife to a diplomat in the manner our protagonist, Brian (Anton Yelchin), does with Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe). Instead, I have memories of a moment spent with a Swedish man. Nonetheless, love is love, and so potent is its alchemy that no matter our sexual orientation, we never get over it.
Unforgettable is the love between Brian and Arielle. They meet as Brian narrates that in New York, you are never more than 20 feet away from someone you want to know or are meant to know. Voila! She is right across the street from him, alone and puffing on a cigarette. He says something in French since he assumes only a French lady can smoke with such elegance, and he is right. Arielle has the accent, the wit, and the sophistication that Americans find oh so irresistible in a European so that even when he initially tells her that he cannot, on moral grounds, get involved with a married woman, he cannot keep away. Brian is drawn to Arielle as a flower is to the sun.
We, too, are drawn to Arielle. The woman shines in every scene. Brian’s last name of Bloom is metaphorical because bloom he does. The unconventionality of the relationship gives their trysts a dose of passion on some days and, on others, the semblance of domestic comfort. Their love is so perfect that Brian wants to marry the woman regardless of the age difference (she is 33; he is 24); the trust of her husband (Lambert Wilson) in him to honor the five to seven code; and her obligations as a parent. Love makes a man out of the boy. Arielle wants Brian just as badly. In addition to being a commendable bed partner (“your body expresses what’s in your heart”), he is a writer destined to reach dizzying heights. He has a story published in The New Yorker, which the editor-in-chief describes as possessing “a hint of greatness,” and gets paid $6,000 for it. Sure. Anyway, Brian is a “great” writer in love with a beautiful woman who loves him back, only perfection being the fragile thing that it is, the five to seven rendezvous enter precarious territory.
Life for our couple works out the way it is meant to. Let me simply say that they attain a state of happily ever after that I understand; I myself have this happiness. Jonas and I met when I was 23 and he was 38, in a video bar on a moon-lit street in Paris. In collarless tee and jeans, he was standing by a post, tall with soft curls of dark hair and arms folded to flatter developed shoulders. Striking as he was, it was his smile that was the clincher – warm, glowing, and directed at me. The man was offering his heart from across the room. During the metro ride to his place, Jonas told me of his youth in boarding school, the rampant homosexuality among the boys; his mother’s initial rejection of him upon his coming out and her ultimate acceptance; and his current ex-lover, whom he was assisting through mental illness and alcoholism. He told me of his zeal for soccer, skiing, horse betting, and weight lifting. Jonas was an oncologist with a wide scope of the world. Whatever it was of myself I shared, he said, “Say, you’re very intelligent.” That was how much we impressed each other in a span of 30 minutes. That was how intimate we became.
In case you’re wondering what I was doing in Paris, I had graduated from Tufts University in Boston the year before and had returned to the City of Lights to be a writer, there where I had spent my junior year as a foreign student, a place that with monuments for buildings was an outdoor museum. Walking its streets connected me to the creative giants through the course of history. Though I knew not on what subject to exert my talent, I was aware that every moment unfolding before me was a possible source of inspiration. As with Brian and Arielle, the stars for me and Jonas aligned to bring us together at this crossroad in our lives. For one night, our words and our bodies were in harmony like notes to music. “I like you a lot,” he said. “I like you, too,” I said. Alas, it had to end at sunrise. Jonas was returning to Sweden in two days. I was moving to San Francisco in two weeks.
Although we never saw each again, we kept in touch by letter for over a year. Jonas’s health began to deteriorate from HIV soon after we parted. He would draw me flowers and express his longing to see the sun in the midst of a freezing winter. We were closing our letters with expressions of love, then I stopped hearing from him. I would have wanted to have known him more, to have spent more days with him, weeks, months and years. But we can manipulate a situation only to a certain point. After that, we need to trust fate.
Brian in “5 to 7” pays homage to Arielle by publishing a novel about their affair. He titles it “The Mermaid,” an allusion to their first meeting in which he tells her that she shares the same name as the Disney princess of the sea, a siren who rises from the depths of the dark unknown to find life and love on land. Fate brought me to Jonas, and fate chose for our moment to last a night. Because of its brevity, I will till my last breath remember him as perfect.
I’ve written my own novel to immortalize him. As Brian says, “Your favorite story, whatever it may be, was written for one person.” How true that is, and how blessed I am to have met someone to make me believe in love at first sight, the splendor of fairy tales.