You’d be hard pressed to find another director who indulges into sentimentality without romanticizing it. A director who relates spiritual crisis to emotional experience. Rohmer did it, but without the naturalism of Pialat. Tone down the brutish bombast of Cassavetes, and adopt the sober visual style of Bresson, and you end up with this.
The reason why Garrel revels in narrative and visual cliches is to deepen the emotional connection with his audience. His shot repertoire is thin: lovers inside apartments, actors during rehearsal, friends around a table, walk and talks in the park. But his images are compulsively watchable, his actors subtly expressive, and the flow of story, gradually engaging.
What is the cause of marital discord? Is it the inability to express yourself? Creatively or otherwise? The moral guilt of conflicted desires?
Here’s the simple story: Louis leaves his wife for a fellow theater actress, who after a few months living in a cramped apartment, not finding work, decides to leave him. She rejects the artistic ideals he has and his commitment to the bohemian life, and moves in with an architect. He sees this as a betrayal of their love pact and attempts suicide.
Quite a statement to make from a director who is quite entrenched in French cinema’s economy. If I wasn’t doubtful of my own judgement I’d say Garrel’s films are condescending to their audience.
Two kinds of people attend Garrel screenings: old people who think French films are sophisticated, and young people with their own nostalgia for sixties French cinema (as peddled by film schools).
Characters are caricatures of young aspiring artists (the filmmaking duo in L’ombre des femmes is a cliche) who never quite make it. But in reality Garrel and his son, Louis, are part of the cultural elite of France. When portraying these down and out losers caught in heartbreaks, I can’t help but hear Garrel snickering behind the camera. He is peddling fantasies of bohemian romances.
But in the end, a movie, whether it is a manufactured product, or a so-called work of art, has to hit emotional points. And the way the story progresses episodically is a minimalist triumph.
(1+1.1) = Louis + Wife
(1) / (1.1) = Louis leaves his wife, and they both become alone
(1 + 2) = Louis starts living with his Mistress
(2) / 1 = Mistress breaks up with Louis
(1) = Louis is alone
A split union, the tearing and breaking of symmetry, emotional mathematics. But not art, just inherited cinematic conventions, an attempt at a commercially viable product, and an audience hungry for fantasy.
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