In The Shadow of Women (2015) – Philippe Garrel


This whole movie is why French cinema is insufferable and only interests old people aging who think themselves to be sophisticated. It is not even a love story in the sense of characters discovering feelings of compassion for one another. It is mostly about the principal character and his capricious childlike nature. Unfortunately, there is some truth in there, so I cannot dismiss it completely.

Paul, let’s just call him that, it doesn’t matter what his name is, feels the compulsion to cheat on Jeanne, his wife, with Louise, a cute film archivist he met at the Cinematheque. Louise falls for Paul, for undisclosed reasons, and maintains the relationship despite knowing that Paul would never leave his wife.

Jeanne, it turns out, is also cheating on Paul, with an intellectual Algerian. When Paul discovers he is being cuckolded, he demands Jeanne stop seeing her lover, which she does, but he on the other hand, maintains his relationship with Louise. Eventually Jeanne finds out about Louise, and the couple breaks up.

Louise spies on Paul and Jeanne

Louise spies on Paul and Jeanne

That’s it! Nothing else happens. But a publication like Variety would have you think otherwise. Let’s see:

From Variety:
An intensely personal rumination on life, politics, art and the battle of the sexes.

Intensely personal: Sure, everything is personal. I’d be worried if it was impersonal, because then it wouldn’t even be a thing. Do they mean that the story is taken from the director’s personal life? That’s kind of silly, no? Were there any details in the story that were so unique, that they brought out the authenticity in the story? Not really! When Jeanne begins to cheat on Paul, she meets her lover in secret at a cafe. Meeting at a cafe is just a Paris cliche. When Paul meets with Louise, he has  to take his shoes off before stepping into her apartment so as to not wake up her roommates. So what? That’s not even a cool detail. It seems like it was thought up on location. I can’t imagine anybody writing that as part of a script. PAUL takes off his shoes and tiptoes to LOUISE’s room.

rumination on life: Isn’t everything a rumination on life? This review is a rumination on life. Basically, rumination means that you continuously think about the various aspects of situations that are upsetting. This movie was not that upsetting, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot, which is normal because I plan to write about it. Which brings me to something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. The reason why I write these so-called notes, is to get back at the idea of being charged money to watch these films. If I spend money to watch, and I don’t write about it, it would make me feel ripped off. And I can’t go through life feeling ripped off, because then I would have low self-esteem, and I’d be prey to individuals seeking to exploit my sensitivity. When you pay for something and then you write about it, you are striking back at the system of commerce which has sort of trapped you in its dynamic. My emotional core is seduced by this popular poetry of vision we call “the movies”. The dark room, the lush images, the potentially good story. Filmmakers, distributors, movie theaters, exploit that! They fatten their pockets, while throwing random vile, sometimes offensive, material at the audience, and never expecting a rebuttal. Well, this is my rebuttal, and it lives on the internet, and my website statistics prove to me that they are being read, and some kind of message is being spread at the same level of communication than the movie itself. I may not be a professional film critic who studied under Andrew Sarris at Columbia University, but my voice is just as accessible.


Paul and Jeanne make (boring) documentaries together

politics: There is not one political issue raised in this film. There is some subplot about the French Resistance, but it could have been any other topic. In no way does the capricious nature of Paul, the masochistic nature of Louise, or the intelligent balanced nature of Jeanne intersect with any political event, cause, or theory. In other words, Variety is a highly respected publication that gets away with bullshit reviews on a regular basis just because the person has a degree decreed by an Ivy League university. Sounds crazy, right? But it’s true.

art: Art! Of course it’s art. Art is the personal expression of an individual, which means there is some art in every single movie, every single song, book, or whatever.

and the battle of the sexes: The battle of the sexes! Any relationship movie is about the so-called battle of the sexes. Once again, Variety, you are allowing complete platitudes to pass off as sophisticated reviews. You send so-called critics to Cannes to watch these films, all expenses paid, and then allow them to write fantasies about the importance of French auteur cinema. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some corruption happening, where you have secret deals with art film distributors and you all help each other to uphold the minimal economic viability of established auteur figures. It would not surprise me if that reveals itself to be true one day.

But despite all that, there are some good things in this film that make it watchable. The main actor who plays Paul (possibly not the correct name), has this brooding scowl that is compulsively watchable. You feel he is about to burst with feeling, but he never does.

Paul’s wife, Jeanne, is on the beautiful side of the French spectrum. Tall, with brazen skin, and beautiful facial features, like the bone of her jaw. When she smiles her face opens up like a large bird deploying its wings when soaring. Her eyes grow large and round like perfect circles and light up like a lighthouse at sea. The range of emotion we see her go through, from rejection, to devotion, is transcendental. We think, ‘Wow, what an elegant, tall human being, with incredible warmth, and so much poise’.

Louise, the mistress, is not as equally blessed with God’s gift of beauty. Her teeth kind of stick out, her eyes are sunk in, and she is gap-toothed. But, ladies and gentlemen, isn’t that what a mistress should look like? God’s little duckling. She might not have physical facial beauty, in the traditional sense (as represented by Jeanne), but she has that most underrated of beauty: mental awareness. Every one of her looks belies an understanding of life that Jeanne, with her emotional naivety, lacks. Paul hustles Jeanne for her love, but he can’t hustle Louise. Louise detects every one of his little emotional hustler tricks and calls them out! Which leaves Paul feeling shamed and embarrassed.

After the breakup, a year goes by till the lovers meet again. Like destitute love addicts, they cling to each other’s necks and decide to hit it off again. We don’t get to see Louise’s fate, but the implication is that she has moved on to far superior things, while these two lovebirds remain…stuck.

Not a bad film after all!




Categories: female leads, Notes

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