Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 24, 2015 3:48 pm 
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STANISLAS MERHAR AND LENA PAUGAM IN L'OMBRE DES FEMMES

Garrel offers a new twist on his favorite theme, but with what seems a flat follow-up

A memorable experience of my first New York Film Festival, in 2005, was Philippe Garrel's dreamy black and white almost three-hour epic about the aftermath of 1968, Regular Lovers, starring his glamorous son Louis, Clotilde Hesme, and others. There is magic in this long, meandering film, which is a far more authentic picture of those days than Bertolucci's glamorous candy-box depiction of it in The Dreamers (2003), which first brought Louis (then 19) to wide attention. You either love Louis or hate him, it seems; I've chosen to love him, and I've pursued the dream his father offers in Regular Lovers ever since. In 2008, also at Lincoln Center, as part of Film Comment Selects I saw Garrel's 1991 J'entends plus la guitare (I no longer hear the guitar), which takes us back closer to the autobiographical material that feeds all his work. Louis was just a boy of eight then, though his father filmed him as a boy. The next year FCS showed the 2008 Garrel film, starring Louis, as another suicidal artist (in Regular Lovers he committed suicide as a poet abandoned by his girlfriend). It's called La frontière de l'aube (The Frontier of Dawn), and typically it's in gorgeous rich black and white, but it's unmemorable. I had to see the 2011 Un été brûlant (A Burning Hot Summer) on my own in Paris, in an obscure cinema, for obvious reasons. In color, set partly in Italy, inexplicably costarring Monica Bellucci with Louis, suicidal as usual, this time a bad painter.

Hope was provided by the 2013 La jalousie (Jealousy), starring Louis, included not without reason in that year's New York Film Festival. It's a modest and concisely edited treatment of the named theme. Philippe Garrel returns to it and to the same economical style (and usual lush black and white) in this year's L'ombre des femmes, a third Garrel père main selection of the New York Film Festival, and a worthy one, but also a bit of a disappointment; or is it just so concise it requires re-watching? The justification of returning to the theme and the method (with son Louis present only as a Nouvelle Vague-style voice-over narrator, which he does in an elegantly detached manner) is that it does offer a sharp new twist in a screenplay written by the great Jean-Claude Carrière, who collaborated notably with Buñuel. Pierre (Stanislas Merhar)and Manon (Clotilde Courau) are a married couple, working together on a documentary about a French resistance fighter (Jean Pommier). Pierre starts an affair with a PhD candidate he meets at a film library, Elizabeth (Lena Paugam) without Manon's knowing it; Elizabeth is curious and spies on the couple to see what her lover's wife looks like -- he has confessed right off that he's married.

Then, by sheer chance, Pierre's masculine superiority is neatly undercut when Elizabeth later spots Manon in a café near the Grands Boulevards métro -- with another man (Mounir Margoum). Eventually what goes around comes around, and the fascination of In the Shadow of Women (odd title, come to think of it) is that while it focuses on Pierre's disdainful, inconsiderate behavior toward both women, the overall effect of the story is to shift from Garrel's usual male-centric point of view. No cell phones or internet or other modern trash here, and no subplots or secondary characters, other than a somewhat annoying - but not funny -- mother (Antoinette Moya), who turns up in cafés and offers advice. And somehow this simplicity makes Garrle's sensiblity seem feminine. When the second revelation comes, there's a bat-squeak of classic French cynicism and farce and female revenge à la {Les Liaisons dengereuses[/i] -- which, however, gets lost in the absurdly feel-good ending. I'm still sorting this out; it may be quite as good as Jealousy; but at the moment it feels like a film that promises more than it delivers. But the same economy has been maintained; in fact this is four minutes shorter than La jalousie. Festival reviews have been good (Metacritic 75%); the French critics loved it (AlloCiné press rating 4.1--a level rarely achieved by a film d'auteur).

In the Shadow of Women/L'Ombre des femmes, 73 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2015 with a quick, well-received French theatrical release (27 May 2015; AlloCiné press rating 4.0); eight festivals are listed on IMDb, including New York, where it was screened for this review. US theatrical release 15 Jan. 2016 Lincoln Center and IFC Center NYC.

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