Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jealousy (La Jalousie)

Director Philippe Garrel (left) on the set with cameraman Willy Kurant

Director Philippe Garrel (left) on the set with his son Louis Garrel

JEALOUSY (La Jalousie)        B+                 
France  (77 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  Philippe Garrel

You don’t love someone in a void.     —Claudia (Anna Mouglalis)

At age 66 Philippe Garrel continues to maintain a link with the French New Wave, where it was his father, French actor Maurice Garrel, a resistance fighter during the war who acted in over a hundred French films, while Philippe embraced the 60’s counterculture, developing a particular fascination for New Wave giants François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette, where his early films of the 60’s and 70’s were largely underground films or portraits of artistic alienation.  Working with miniscule budgets in relative obscurity, ignored by the mainstream press, virtually unknown outside of hardcore cinephiles, very few of his films have actually been released in America.  He started filming in 1964 at the age of 16, becoming part of the May '68 generation, dating German singer and Warhol Superstar Nico from the Velvet Underground from 1969 to 1979, where she appeared in seven of his films beginning in 1972, sharing a turbulent decade of wild bohemian lifestyle and drug addiction together that ended up with electroshock treatment.  Afterwards, his films were variations on his own life, becoming more autobiographical, making stark portraits of intimacy, alienation, and the pursuit of love, often shot under the shadow of lost loves or lost dreams of the 1968 uprising, perhaps best represented by REGULAR LOVERS (2005), a mammoth 3-hour work that looks behind the scenes of the student demonstrations in Paris during the late 60’s, starring Garrel’s own son Louis who may as well be the poster child for French films, the natural heir of Godard and Truffaut’s New Wave darling Jean-Pierre Léaud.  What perhaps distinguishes Garrel’s films are his bleak, claustrophobic portraits of intimacy and alienation, where abrupt moments of happiness are usually short-lived, eventually replaced by an all-consuming cloud of despair that hovers over his featured characters, shot in a portrait like style, using close ups and long takes, allowing conversations to develop where nothing feels forced.  His couples drown in each other’s sorrows, often suffocating on their misery, where suicide inevitably becomes an option.  JEALOUSY is a remake of Garrel’s second film, a fifteen-minute short DROIT DE VISITE (1965), made at the age of 17 and based largely on his own childhood memories when his stage actor father left his mother for another woman. 
Jealousy  The 51st New York Film Festival, from Film Comment   
Philippe Garrel is a true child of French cinema. His father was the great actor Maurice Garrel, he made a second home for himself in the Cinémathèque Française, he shot his first film at the age of 16, and he rode through the streets of Paris shooting newsreels of May ’68 with Godard in his red Ferrari. From the start, Garrel’s intimate, handcrafted cinema has stayed elementally close to the conditions of silent film—the unadorned beauty of faces, figures, and light—and revisited the same deeply personal themes of loss, mourning, and rejuvenation through love. In this sharp, vigorous film, shot in glorious black and white by the great Willy Kurant (Masculine Feminine), Garrel takes a fresh look at his titular subject, patiently following the professional and emotional crosscurrents between two romantically entwined theater actors played by the director’s son Louis and Anna Mouglalis. With a beautiful score by Jean-Louis Aubert. A 51st New York Film Festival selection, voted best undistributed film of 2013 in Film Comment’s year-end poll.

Most likely by design, the film has the spare black and white look of a 60’s Godard film, beautifully shot in ‘Scope, adding a visual elegance, made up largely of fragmentary, moment-by-moment sketches, where Garrel uses tight framing on an exasperated Clothilde (Rebecca Covenant), who is utterly distraught at the sight of seeing Louis (Louis Garrel) gather his belongings and walk out the door, shouting “Don’t leave me alone.  Don’t do this,” an emotionally devastating moment that Charlotte (Olga Milshtein, stealing every scene she’s in), their young and impressionable 8-year old daughter, witnesses through a keyhole from her bedroom.  While set in the present, the film recounts an episode in the 50’s when Maurice, a struggling actor, left Philippe’s mother for another woman.  That would interestingly make Louis (the director’s son) the director’s father Maurice onscreen, while the young child Charlotte assumes the identity of the director.  In REGULAR LOVERS (2005), it was Louis playing his father’s role in the turbulent 60’s.  Keeping things in the family, Louis’s younger sister Esther onscreen is played by his real life sister Esther Garrel.  Louis takes up with another actress Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), once thought to be a rising star, though she hasn’t had a part in six years, where both are down and out actors with barely enough to get by.  According to the director in an interview, one was able to survive in the late 60’s on three or four francs a day, where the barren, claustrophobic confinement of their tiny top-floor apartment was typical of the era.  While initially overjoyed to be with one another, striding quickly together arm in arm through the busy Parisian streets, Louis tries to help her land a job, while there are also amusing moments, like introducing Claudia for the first time to his overly inquisitive daughter, where Louis arranges to see Charlotte every other weekend, spending much of the time walking through the city or hanging out in parks, eating communal sandwiches, stealing lollipops, where they giddily converse with one another.  While Louis playfully has tickle fights with his daughter and is more gregarious, enjoying time spent socializing with friends in bars or restaurants, Claudia is more distant, something of a continually brooding, intellectual existentialist who is used to being alone and detached from the world.  When Louis asks, “If one of us ever cheats, do we tell?”, a giveaway hint that pretty much explains his state of mind, Claudia simply responds “You’re so complicated.  I only need you to love me.” 

At a modest 77 minutes, the film is a threadbare, small-scale project told in two parts with chapter headings, the first entitled “J'ai gardé les anges (I Kept the Angels),” mostly rooted in the first-hand experiences of the characters, while the second “Sparks in a Powder Keg” relies more on harder to reach memories, set in a barren, wintry landscape where jackets are even worn inside.  Louis lets his sister Esther in on the “law of the desert,” where you accommodate a stranger for three days and three nights under the safety of your tent, but then they must leave.  Having never heard this before, Louis claims it came from his Dad, but Esther points out regrettably and somewhat sadly, that she was too young to remember their father.  There are more dropped hints of Mayakovsky and Seneca, both of whom took their own lives, not to mention Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, which also deals with suicide, while the ever dour Claudia is continually heard uttering cryptic comments like “This apartment will be the death of us.”  This foreshadowing lingers like smog or stagnant air for awhile as the couple settles into a kind of accepted resignation, where they pretend not to be ignoring one another.  When Claudia, who sleeps with random men by habit, begins an affair with a theater director, Henri (Eric Ruillat), finding work in the process, the director bankrolls an upgraded apartment that Claudia moves into at once, without even asking Louis, where the director is supposedly laissez faire regarding the continued presence of Louis.  But in no time, Claudia walks out on Louis much like he earlier walked out on Clothilde, leaving him feeling blindsided, emotionally paralyzed, and heartstruck by the move, as if it’s against the laws of nature, suddenly finding himself alone in an apartment he can’t afford.  While it’s actually amusing to see a completely perplexed Louis Garrel get his comeuppance, as in film after film he’s always playing the callous lothario, but here his grand and tragic gesture leads to a suicide attempt, shooting himself in the chest, and missing, where we see him afterwards hooked up to every known contraption in the hospital ward.  As it turns out, Maurice Garrel once tried to commit suicide in exactly the same way.  The sad truth of the matter is the film’s melancholic mood reveals how quickly dreams disappear and one’s idealistic hopes are crushed, beautifully set to the tender guitar music of Jean-Louis Aubert, one of the better scored films of the year.  Garrel offers one of his more likeable low-key efforts, expressing a genuine affection for his downbeat characters, another doomed short story about the fragility of happiness along with relationships loved and lost, where a friend points out to Louis, “You understand your characters better than those close to you,” — a poignant truth about cinema that runs throughout the New Wave era, where insights into art are more easily achieved than reflecting philosophically on one’s own existence. 

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