“You’re not a complete person without your soul mate,” croon three mythical birdlike women early in the coming-of-age musical “My Love Affair With Marriage.” The vocal trio — who fall somewhere between a Greek chorus and the “Macbeth” weird sisters — are among countless whimsical devices that elevate this beguiling animated feature, which traces the sexual and romantic awakening of a young woman in the Soviet Union.
Written and directed with wild imagination by the Latvian filmmaker Signe Baumane (“Rocks in My Pockets”), the film follows Zelma (voiced by Dagmara Dominczyk) over 23 years as she transforms from spunky kid to lovelorn teenager to restless wife to realized artist — all while entangled in a double helix of fallacies about female worth and feminine purpose. Alternating between sass and sincerity, Baumane methodically identifies the origins of these myths and then traces how they pinball Zelma through a series of agonies and ecstasies.
It’s a moody, unpredictable tale of love and loss, stuffed with vivid metaphors, Soviet period detail and pedagogical sequences about the physiology of love. The glue holding these disparate pieces together is the film’s gloriously tactile aesthetic: Baumane crafted Zelma’s world by overlaying line-drawn characters on meticulously constructed papier-mâché dioramas. The result evokes an adult puppet show crossed with a graphic novel, and like the budding female identity the film untangles, the whole thing takes a little time getting used to. Once you do, it is remarkably beautiful.
My Love Affair With Marriage
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. In theaters.