Friday, July 20, 2012

A Burning Hot Summer (Un été brûlant)

A BURNING HOT SUMMER (Un été brûlant)           B-                   
France  Italy  Switzerland  (95 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  Philippe Garrel

For whatever reason, Philippe Garrel films rarely play in the United States, where in the last two decades only 2 of the director’s 8 films had an official release here, where I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore (J'entends plus la... (1991) was released in the USA in 2008, 17 years after it played in Europe, following the successful release of his critically acclaimed REGULAR LOVERS (2005).  Others films, like this one, which will be available to the public on View On Demand beginning the 29th, have made their way to various art houses, but are virtually unseen by the viewing public.  Garrel is an acquired taste and is not for everyone, but he’s a throwback to a different era of cinema where film had to matter, using an autobiographical, stream-of-consciousness Proustian style of personal confession, something along the lines of Jean Eustache, whose wrenching drama The Mother and the Whore (La Maman et la Putain) (1973) remains a seminal work in a radical and provocative style of cinema that challenges the viewer, a searing confessional masterpiece that unfurls in exhausting, exhilarating detail.  Garrel’s characters writhe in the agony of their own despairing souls, where the only life worth paying attention to is one that recognizes how intertwined life and death really are, as life doesn’t exist without human tragedy.  Marc Cholodenko has co-written all of Garrel’s films in the past 20 years with the director, where their style is to convey complexity through completely unsentimentalized emotional directness.  Perhaps this family might be comparable to America’s John Huston, whose father Walter acted in over 50 films, and whose children Angelica and Danny have both built successful careers in motion pictures and television.  Philippe’s father Maurice acted in over a hundred French films, while his son Louis first appeared onscreen at age 6 and has gone on to replace Jean-Pierre Léaud (who happens to be his godfather) as the next generation’s heart throb in French films.

In typical Garrel style, the film opens with a suicide, as the bleary-eyed Louis Garrel speeds his luxury BMW into a tree, becoming an image of death and stillness, where his last thought was a naked image of his wife (Monica Bellucci).  The rest of the film is a flashback narrated by his best friend Paul (Jérôme Robart), a relatively nondescript kind of guy who sells revolutionary political papers on the street while working part-time as a movie extra.  Paul’s girlfriend is Élisabeth (Céline Sallette), a cute girl he meets on the movie set, becoming lifelong partners.  Frédéric (Louis Garrel) is a painter living in a gorgeous villa in Italy with his voluptuous older wife Angèle (Bellucci), something of a sexpot movie star, where he invites them both to come spend the summer together in Italy, as he’s having difficulty painting, “All that dead beauty is so uninspiring.”  Frédéric and Paul spend all their time together discussing revolutionary politics, among other things, where Paul believes it’s a question of the police, as they inevitably support the Fascist state, where you have to actively live a life that defies the need for police, suggesting “Fidelity is an outdated, petit-bourgeois concept.”  Frédéric, on the other hand, believes in art and love, tolerant of all political views so long as he’s allowed to live his life.  Élisabeth starts feeling left out as Paul is constantly at Frédéric’s side, where he’s not ashamed to admit he enjoys admiring his wife, which is a roundabout way of belittling Élisabeth.  When Angèle receives rave reviews for her latest role, they celebrate and throw a party, where Angèle creates something of a scandal on the dance floor to Dirty Pretty Things - Truth Begins - YouTube (5:23), creating a sense of sexually uninhibited euphoria Dancing in Philippe Garrel's "A Burning Hot Summer" - YouTube (4:32), which ends badly with Frédéric, where things are never quite the same between the two of them, mired in the complacency of a personal malaise that may have political roots.  It should be stated that Maurice Garrel was a resistance fighter against the Nazi’s in the 40’s, while Philippe was a leftist student activist in Paris, May 1968, helping to organize the largest nationwide strike in history, involving 22% of the entire French population over the course of two weeks.  Louis, on the other hand, is the product of a French generation without a war or a cause to rally behind, becoming ambivalent about politics, emblematic of the nation’s complacency which led to the election of Nicolas Sarkozy, President of a right-wing party, soon to become the most divisive conservative politician in France.  During Angèle’s lifetime, Italy has been rocked by the self-serving antics of billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, the longest serving postwar Prime Minister of Italy, a term plagued by corruption and scandal and personal indiscretion.   

Louis Garrel is always the most indulgent and annoyingly self-centered person in the room, a guy that thinks only of himself, who couldn’t possibly take the time to understand others, as he’s completely enraptured with himself.  But in Monica Bellucci, she’s more indulgent than he is, as she has to be the center of attention where she can be adored all the time.  If people aren’t paying attention to her, she feels something’s wrong.  So of course, she runs off and has an affair with her next filmmaker, Roland (Vladislav Galard), falling madly in love, as he gives her all the attention she needs.  Both Frédéric and Angèle are pleasure gluttons, where they simply can’t get enough of themselves, making them rather empty headed and vapid characters, most of the time feeling superficial at best.  When things go wrong between them, as they inevitably do, they never talk to each other or try to work things out, as other than sex, they’re not used to communicating anything.  So long as the sex was great, everything else just fell into place, but when people started feeling left out or distant, they didn’t know how to reconnect.  Élisabeth doesn’t really understand what is happening between them, but she intrinsically takes the woman’s side, knowing this could one day be happening to her.  When Angèle runs off with the filmmaker, Frédéric falls apart, becoming an emotional wreck.   When Paul tries to console his friend, Élisabeth has had enough of being left out.  This film is defined by unlikable characters that don’t know how to talk to one another, that create distances and empty spaces, and then are surprised to feel alienated.  The quality of the filmmaking is excellent, told exclusively as a series of lived in fragments or vignettes, though strangely the narrator himself is rarely a featured character, where Willy Kurant’s cinematography remains intimately focused, and the music by John Cale has a way of accentuating something unexpressed.  Everything about the film works except the lead couple, where there’s no sizzle, and while the film may attempt to be more, as it’s largely a film about two male friends, it gets bogged down by the couple’s emotional limitations, as both of whom couldn’t be more full of themselves, making it hard for the audience to care about a loathsome pair who could care less about anybody else.  All the crocodile tears that Frédéric feels are just missed opportunities where no one’s paying any attention to him—could anything in life be worse?  There’s an interesting appearance at the end of the film from Maurice Garrel, the last role he appeared in before he died just months before the film’s release.

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