Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 12:13 pm 
Site Admin

Joined: Sat Mar 08, 2003 1:50 pm
Posts: 3758
Location: California/NYC


Sad couple, lost child, cinematic poetry

L'Enfant secret/The Secret Child is a late Seventies example of Philippe Garrel's typically moody autobiographical explorations of the depredations of artistic life. Though it's one of the most famous of them, winner of the 1982 Prix Jean Vigo, it was long impossible to find. Except for a DVD produced in Japan, it was available only in a copy in the hands of Garrel himself. Now a handsome, restored print has been made, with clear images and sharp sound, and it's being shown at the Metrograph Theater in New York and as part of the Revivals section of the 2017 New York Film Festival.

L'Enfant secret concerns a man, a woman, and a gradually abandoned child named "Swann." Like Garrel's other films that I've seen, it's stark, harsh, and poetic, this quality emphasized by contrasty black-and-white images further heightened (or restored to original intent) in the remastered print, along with (also intentional) complete fall-outs of sound, alternating with spotty dialogue and a warm keyboard score. This is vintage Garrel, stoical, arbitrary, moody. It's like a telegraphic diary, not very good storytelling, not very good entertainment, rudimentary in style, but capable of leaving a viewer feeling devastated with its ruthless depiction of life full of promise and life thrown away.

A summary supplied on IMDb describes L'Enfant secret as "four chapters based on the birth of a 'secret child', or a film, with chapter titles: 'La séction Césarienne' (Caesarian section: a descriptive detail introducing the mother); 'Le dernier guerrier' (the last warrior: how the father sees himself); 'Le cercle ophydique' (the serpent's closed circle: the couple reunites at the psychiatric ward); 'Les forêts désenchantées (unfairy [sic] forests: the film in the making)."

But if this is indeed what this cryptic, stoical film is actually about, it's not what an unprepared viewer sees, which isn't filmmaking and career development but moments in the lives of Élie (Anne Wiazemsky) a young woman who has a child by an actor who doesn't show up to be the father, and who later begins to use IV drugs. She becomes involved with Jean-Baptiste (Henri de Maublanc). He is a filmmaker, or a man who wishes to make films. In scenes of him, or Élie, or the two of them, Jean-Baptiste suffers depression, or brain damage from on overdose of LSD, or both, and he winds up in a sanatorium, where he suffers the damaging effects of shock treatments those close to him learn about only later.

Perhaps one can't or oughtn't be an "unprepared viewer" of Garrel's films, because they are heavily autobiographical, so some rudimentary knowledge of his life is a necessary subtext, and Jean-Baptiste can be understood as a version of himself. Note that Maurice Garrel, Philippe's father, was an actor, who appears in his 2005 Sixties epic of a doomed poet, Les amants réguliers/Regular Lovers (NYFF 2005) starring Philippe's son, Louis Garrel, uniting three generations of this French cinematic dynasty. I was struck in L'Enfant secret by how much Henri de Maublanc, with his big stylish mop of dark hair, resembled Philippe's now 34-year-old son. It's as if Philippe brought up his son to take over the key role in his endless autobiographical sagas - except that Louis has developed quite a varied career on his own, apart from playing in noless than seven of his father's films. He has played in more of Christophe Honoré's, besides co-starring in his own debut aa director a couple of years ago and playing in films by a number of other directors. Louis's fame has become more mainstream than his father's. But his father, whose greatest recognition always has come at the Venice Film Festival, retains an unspoiled avant-garde cachet.

At the point when he made L'Enfant secret, however, Garrel had made a conscious decision to turn away from the focus in his films on his great love, the German singer-songwriter Nico, with whom he had been involved for ten years, ending in 1979, and if not to cease being autobiographical in his movies, at least to approach his life in them in a new way, aided by a new collaboration with the Belgian-born scenarist Annette Wademant. This was Garrel's fifteenth film, and he's made seventeen since.

L'enfant secret begins with Élie and a young man, and the implied conception of her child, whom she names Swann, evidently after Proust's character. It's only later that Jean-Baptiste enters the scene when he and Élie exchange their first kiss in a villa outside Paris. She goes on tour as an actress, and Jean-Baptiste has his depression. She reappears, and so does the now grown up Swann, a toddler who can walk fast, and Jean-Baptiste has regained hope and struggles to regain his memories. But she gives up the child, who she doesn't want and she says "doesn't love me anymore." Now, it seems it's she who needs help, as we see her brandishing a needle and suggesting to Jean-Baptiste that the drug is "good," and that he may like to try it.

In the center of the film, Jean-Baptiste may seem to take over. But the egocentrism of Garrel's films may be countered by his collaboration with Annette Wademant on the writing. Anne Wiazemsky arguably continues to affect the viewer more than de Maublanc, with her sad, soulful face: she is pure emotion, while he, even when he's smashing a window and cutting his hand, is a little more like a fashion model.

But that's okay, because one of the things that makes you want to go back to Garrel's films is their link with the powerful rudiments of film, with early movie history. The impressionistic - and favorable - 1982 review of L'Enfant secret in Cahiers du Cinéma by Serge Daney doesn't translate very well - it reduces to a network of jottings and allusions - but one thing holds true: his comment that at some moments, like the one when Jean-Baptiste struggles to light a butt he's found under a bench, this film reminds us of Griffith or Chaplin.

L'Enfant secret, 92 mins., premiered in France 1979 but had French theatrical release 2 Dec. 1982 and showed at the Berlinale 26 Feb. 1983. A few other later festival showings. Now digitally remastered version begins theatrical premiere at the Metrograph (NYC) 18 Oct. 2017, also showing in NYFF Revivals section 10 Oct. at 6:00pm, with Garrel in person at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (Lincoln Center). Screened for this review at the Metrograph 23 Sept. 2017. The Metrograph is staging a two-part retrospective of Philippe Garrel's films; Garrel will be on hand for part of that too. For the program of Part 1 (13 films) go here. Philippe Garrel's new film, L'amant d'un jour/Lover for a Day, is part of the Main Slate of the 2017 NYFF. Anne Wiazemsky died 5 Oct. 2017 in Paris at 70 (Garrel is 69).

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 

All times are UTC - 8 hours

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Baidu [Spider] and 20 guests

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group