Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 7:56 pm 
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Lucky Luc

Philippe Garrel is a regular in NYFF Main Slates, perhaps for his classic French style and stubborn independence as a filmmaker. The look here is handsome, the storytelling is economical, and the actors are all good, but Garrel senior begins to seem more and more an inexplicable anachronism, his blindly chauvinistic point of view downright shocking this time, though maybe for some the storyline here may seem simply novel. And always there is the old fashioned framework, the rich black and white images, the frequent voiceover narration using the formal passé simple tense. Garrel collaborated again here with the prolific screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, now 89, who worked in an almost surreal "exquisite corpse" style with Garrel's son Louis recently on the latter's second feature as a director, A Faithful Man (NYFF 2018).

It's all from the point of view of lucky, clueless, avowedly cowardly Luc (Logann Antuofermo), son of a carpenter, living in the provinces. He meets a girl of Arab origin and impressive hair at a bus stop in Paris, Djemila (Oulaya Amamra), and from this springs a connection. We have to grant that Garrel writes his women pretty dumb too, since it's well goofy of Djemila to fall instantly for a guy who hardly says a word to her. Luc seems to connect just by staring. Luc explains to Djemila that he's only in Paris to apply to a famous and prestigious training program for ébénistes, cabinetmakers, the Boulle School. He quickly gets her into his bed, but she won't go all the way. Nonetheless when he soon returns to the provinces, she's devastated.

It's surprising that Garrel spends so much on this relationship and makes it the first, emotional, one and the most memorable. One really does feel the power of the long exchanged looks. When Djemila tells Luc he's very "doux" (sweet, gentle), at that point it seems convincing and rather interesting. The actor radiates warmth, sexuality, and yes, gentleness. He tells Djemila he'll "never forget her." In these days of email and cellphones, this too is an anachronism, because of course, it's easy to keep in touch. Back he goes to his carpenter father (André Wilms), with whom he lives. Later Luc confesses (through the voiceover) to his "lacheté" toward Djemila, his cowardice.

Eventually we see that the only human Luc cares about is his father, and that's the one relationship in this film of real depth. The movie has two other women up its sleeve for Luc, neither of whom will really matter, though number three is ostensibly the charm, the keeper. And the plot jumps the shark later on, and I began to lose track, or cease to care. Immediately upon his return home, Luc runs into Geneviève (Louise Chevillotte, seen also in Gerrel's 2017 Lover for a Day, NYFF 2017). Geneviève instantly pops into bed with Luc - or do they have sex in the bath? She is hot for her Lycee lover from six or seven years earlier, no questions asked. This goes on for a while, and then Luc gets the letter of acceptance to the Boulle School, which makes his dad cry: he never made it that high in the French carpentry pecking order. Needless to say, this, like Garrel's kind of filmmaking, is an antique craft.

Before Luc leaves home for school, when he has promised Geneviève they'd see each other every other week, she breaks down and confesses to him she is pregnant with his child. Far from delighted he is furious and yells at her, saying she has "betrayed him," since this isn't a responsibility he is ready for, financially or otherwise. Clearly not. His departure is cold, and he isn't in touch. Geneviève, like Djemila, has admittedly been foolish to fall into this relationship again so heavily. Can't she see how shallow Luc is?

Need we say that soon after he gets set at éboniste school, a personable black colleague, Jean-René (Teddy Chawa), sets up a double date for the two of them with two nurses, he with Alice (Aline Belibi), Luc with Betsy (Souheila Yacoub)? Before you know it or the action has accounted for it Luc and Betsy are living together and then, with Paco (Martin Mesnier), a coworker of Betsy's who - needs a place for a while. Paco must endure the sound of Luc and Betsy's lovemaking, there's no way around it. Luc has to get up very early for cabinetry school leaving Paco and Betsy in bed in their small apartment, since they work later, and - that's the kind of world this is - Luc has to worry that Betsy could also be popping into bed with Paco.

The last part of the plot shifts the attention to Luc's father, perhaps a figure of more weight - but it's too late. My first experience with Philippe Garrel's films was the best one: the drawn-out, dreamy, ultra-sad evocation of late sixties Paris, Regular LoversURLK (NYFF 2005). A couple times Garrel senion has evoked his own famous, druggy failed love affairs effectively. But this is a tale that's hard to swallow.

The Salt of Tears/Le sel des larmes, 100 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 2020, opened in Paris theaters in July (AlloCiné press rating 3.5). Screened for this review as part of the virtual New York Film Festival Sept. 29, 2020. Also slated for Moscow Oct. 4. A Distrib Films release.

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