četvrtak, 8. studenoga 2012.

Philippe Garrel - La cicatrice intérieure (1972), Les hautes solitudes (1974)

Francuski režiser koji je snimio nekoliko filmova s Nico iz Velvet Unedgrounda (vjerojatno zato što je 10 godina njome bio oženjen). Mitopoetični La cicatrice intérieure (Unutrašnji ožiljak) najeksperimentalniji je. Za Garrela film = Freud + Lumière.

From Rotten Tomatoes: This is a highly experimental French film consisting of no more than 23 camera shots, total. It resembles nothing so much as one of Warhol’s earlier films, except that it is more episodic. Nico of the Velvet Underground portrays a different woman in each of the episodes. The first three concern her “rescues” from Death Valley, Egypt and Iceland by a young man to whom she eventually says “stay away from me.” Following that, she recites from various texts in German, French and English, makes various gnomic observations and encounters various men in various guises. All the men are played either by director Philippe Garrel or Pierre Clementi. ~ Clarke Fountain, Rov

Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les Sunlights...

Liberté, la nuit (1983)

Marie pour mémoire (1967)

Sauvage Innocence

Les Hautes Solitudes

Le Révélateur 

 L'enfant secret

 Le bleu des origines (1979) 

 Les chemins perdus (1967) 

 Le Lit de la vierge (1969) 

 Philippe Garrel - Portrait of an Artist


  Les Chemins perdus (1966-67)

Le revelateur (1968)

Les Hautes solitudes (1974)

Garrel made his first short film at 16 and was swiftly dubbed a cinematic Rimbaud. He shot what Godard called «the best film about May '68» (the student-worker uprising), and then, during the 70s, embarked on a series of cinematic «experiments», avoiding conventional narrative and specific social references in favor of private, symbolic worlds replete with archetypal character and action. The influence of painters Georges de la Tour and Ingres is evident in these «spectacles». Around 1969, he met Nico, the Velvet Underground diva, who became a sort of muse, starring in a number of his films.
Working with minuscule budgets in relative obscurity, appreciated by a small number of dedicated fans but ignored by the mainstream to the point that only one of his films has been released in the Anglophone world (his first feature, «Marie pour mémoire» in 1967), Philippe Garrel is the archetypal romantic loner poet. He started filming in 1964 and made his first feature four years later. A child of 1968 and the Nouvelle Vague with a particular admiration for Godard, his films can be split into two periods. The first are underground works, hermetic visions of artistic alienation and, as the ‘70s wore on, film portraits of the people around him, notably the German chanteuse Nico of Velvet Underground fame with whom he lived for ten years. These were Garrel’s wild years of drug addiction, permissiveness and extreme alienation, which culminated in a traumatic experience of electroshock treatment. They would haunt the films that followed. From 1979 he chose to move into a more narrative cinema, to tell the story of his life rather than immerse viewers in abstract hermetic visions that reflected it, often only obliquely. The result is an ongoing series of autobiographical films, one of the most coherent bodies of work in the cinema. Marriages come and go, children arrive and ask awkward questions, parents pass on their wisdom and die and the Garrel hero shuffles into middle age under the shadow of lost loves and the lost dreams of the 1968 rising. Garrel’s cinematic universe is a pared down, melancholy place two steps away from the home movie. It is suffused with a uniquely affecting tenderness, a sense of intimacy almost unknown elsewhere. The couple is always at the centre of this universe, the pursuit of love and its numerous difficulties being his constant theme and, for him, the only theme worth dealing with. Among his best-known films are «Liberté la nuit» (1983, with Christine Boisson), «J’entends plus la guitare» (1990), «Le Coeur fantôme» (1995, with Luis Rego), and «Le Vent de la nuit» (1998, with Xavier Beauvois and Catherine Deneuve).
(Source: http://www.centreimage.ch/cic_archives/02progE/bim/bim9/retro_philippe_garrel_e.html)

Voyeurism of the Soul: The Films of Philippe Garrel


In 1957, François Truffaut wrote: “The film of tomorrow appears to me as even more personal than an individual and autobiographical novel, like a confession or a diary. The young filmmakers will express themselves in the first person and will relate what has happened to them: it may be the story of their first love or their most recent; of their political awakening; the story of a trip, a sickness, their military service, their marriage, their last vacation.and it will be enjoyable because it will be true.the film of tomorrow will be an act of love.” (1) Then the Nouvelle Vague came and went. For all of their achievements, with the notable exception of Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) they never quite fulfilled the conditions of this manifesto. Perhaps Eric Rohmer comes closest, with his delightfully intimate stories of day-to-day life and love. But even these lack the element of autobiography. In an interview for Cahiers du Cinéma last year, Maurice Pialat was delighted by interviewer Charles Tesson’s assertion that his films were what the Nouvelle Vague promised but did not deliver. (2) This is perhaps even truer of some other directors of his generation. Jean Eustache is an obvious example but perhaps the best is Philippe Garrel, the world’s greatest working filmmaker.
Working with minuscule budgets in relative obscurity, appreciated by a small number of dedicated fans but ignored by the mainstream to the point that only one of his films has been released in the Anglophone world (his first feature, Marie pour mémoire in 1967), Philippe Garrel is the archetypal romantic loner poet. He started filming in 1964 and made his first feature four years later. A child of 1968 and the Nouvelle Vague with a particular admiration for Godard, his films can be split into two periods. The first are underground works, hermetic visions of artistic alienation and, as the ’70s wore on, film portraits of the people around him, notably the German chanteuse Nico of “Velvet Underground” fame with whom he lived for ten years. These were Garrel’s wild years of drug addiction, permissiveness and extreme alienation, which culminated in a traumatic experience of electroshock treatment. They would haunt the films that followed. From 1979 he chose to move into a more narrative cinema, to tell the story of his life rather than immerse viewers in abstract hermetic visions that reflected it, often only obliquely. The result is an ongoing series of autobiographical films, one of the most coherent bodies of work in the cinema. Marriages come and go, children arrive and ask awkward questions, parents pass on their wisdom and die and the Garrel hero shuffles into middle age under the shadow of lost loves and the lost dreams of the 1968 rising. Garrel’s cinematic universe is a pared down, melancholy place two steps away from the home movie. It is suffused with a uniquely affecting tenderness, a sense of intimacy almost unknown elsewhere. The couple is always at the centre of this universe, the pursuit of love and its numerous difficulties being his constant theme and, for him, the only theme worth dealing with.
Garrel’s films are made up of moments, moments of day-to-day intimacy or alienation, often elliptically linked. Quiet conversations and silences between friends and lovers. And thought. Few other directors have made reflection so central to their filmmaking and almost none have captured it with such unforced grace. It is a cinema of contemplation rather than narrative. He shoots with the most basic means in an elegant, portrait like style. Sometimes he uses quite long takes, always with very little cutting around in a scene and often none at all. Scenes are filmed with a stillness and a patience that do the exact opposite of what most effective narrative cinema does, that is, to grab audiences and manipulate them into a state of false emotion.
Liberté la nuit
Rather, Garrel’s style allows viewers to enter the scene for themselves, which results in a heightened sense of immediacy. The immediacy of the moment. Moments which we don’t feel are being played for us, but rather private moments we are observing.
Moments like Christine Boisson sitting up in bed after sleeping with Maurice Garrel for the first time in Liberté la nuit (1983) or later in the same film staring endlessly out of the window of a ferry; like Luis Rego quietly painting in Le Coeur fantôme (1995); like Garrel’s small son Louis floating paper boats in the bathroom in Les Baisers de secours (1988); like Catherine Deneuve anxiously preparing a bedroom for her rendezvous with Xavier Beauvois at the beginning of Le Vent de la nuit (1998). Moments whose haunting power is best summed up by Tony McKibbin in a phrase that perfectly encapsulates the source of these films’ power: “voyeurism of the soul”.
At the centre of these films are the actors and actresses. Some, like Jean-Pierre Léaud and the director’s father Maurice, with whom he likes to make a film at least every five years, are regulars. Others, like Benoît Régent (quite extraordinary in J’entends plus la guitare, 1990) and Lou Castel (La Naissance de l’amour, 1993), make their marks in passing. Among ‘his’ actresses Nico, Zouzou, Brigitte Sy, Christine Boisson, Johanna Ter Steege and Aurelia Alcais have all appeared more than once.
With the exception of Liberté la nuit, probably the finest of his ’80s work, which is set at the time of the Algerian war, his films of the past two decades have been contemporary and more or less autobiographical. L’Enfant secret (1979) began the cycle with a retelling of his affair with Nico; this was the inspiration behind J’entends plus la guitare as well, which looked back from the perspective of his later marriage and settled life; the short Rue Fontaine (1984) tells of another affair, this time with Jean Seberg, with the addition of his imagined suicide; Les Baisers de secours is an all family affair in which Garrel and his then wife Brigitte Sy play out a drama based on her devastation at being passed over for a role in another of his films. From J’entends plus la guitare on, the link from one film to the next becomes more pronounced. It ends with the hero’s marriage disintegrating, the main subject of his following film La Naissance de l’amour, which concludes with him taking up with a younger woman. This affair is the centre of Le Coeur fantôme, his most upbeat film in spite of the death of the hero’s father with which it concludes.
Le Vent de la nuit
In contrast, Le Vent de la nuit is his most chilling film since the ’70s. It seems to mark a new direction in his work. Shot in uncharacteristic widescreen, the sense of closeness of the previous settings has given way to an unforgiving, glacially abstract world reminiscent of Antonioni in which characters move about pointlessly, hopelessly ensnared in their pasts.
In its story of a young man’s apprenticeship to a lonely, older man who carries the burden of Garrel’s past, it takes on an almost mythological dimension. Suicide is seen as the only solution in this tenderly lucid vision of perfect pessimism.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Garrel’s filmmaking is his trust in the inherent power of the cinema or at least the cinematic image. He once defined cinema as “Freud plus Lumière” (3) and Lumière is perhaps the director he resembles most. The astonishing directness of the relationship between Garrel’s camera and reality is in so many ways filmmaking at its most obvious. So obvious that no one since Lumière has had the courage or imagination to work that way. Yet his images have a poetry that is far removed from documentary drabness. In La Chinoise (1967), Godard claims Lumière was not the first documentary director, but rather one of the last great Impressionist painters. Garrel’s films are painterly in the same way. Rossellini stated, “things are there. Why manipulate them?” (4) Garrel proves the effectiveness of this approach definitively. Not only in terms of style, but also in subject matter. It is at his own life that his gaze is directed.
With the simplest of means and subjects that do not leave his back yard and are all the more deeply felt for it, Philippe Garrel has created a body of work that stands as a reproach to how stunted and self conscious most cinema still is. For anyone watching films in this era of computer manipulated visceral hyperbole, the tender toughness of Garrel’s austere approach is a much-needed reminder of the beauty of cinema in its purest state and its privileged position in capturing the face of reality.


  1. François Truffaut, Les Films de ma Vie (Paris: Flammarion), 1975
  2. Cahiers du Cinéma, October 2000
  3. Originally said in an interview with Gerard Courant in 1982 and then quoted in a question by Thomas Lescure in his book of interviews with Garrel, Une camera a la place du Coeur, (Paris: Admiranda/Institut de l’image), 1992
  4. Quoted from an interview with Rossellini by Fereydoun Hoveyda and Jacques Rivette in Cahiers du Cinéma, April 1959 

Philippe Garrel

Le Lit de la vierge, 1969

lit_vierge.gifThere is an understatedly crystalline moment in Le Lit de la vierge (The Virgin's Bed) when the scarlet woman, Marie Magdalène (Zouzou), having encountered the fragile and aimless Jesus (Pierre Clémenti) for the first time, cryptically explains that the men of the village pay for her company through the archaic currency of stones - and along the way, has amassed a collection that seemingly serves no other purpose than to have the potential having things to throw. The allusion to the casting of stones proves particularly incisive, not only within the loose, Biblical allegory of Philippe Garrel's reconfigured tale of a dislocated, modern-day prophet who crosses paths with (and shows compassion towards) an adulterous woman, but also within the contemporaneity of the widespread social unrest that had defined the political and moral climate of May 68 - a turbulent, yet profoundly transformative era when emboldened, young radicals like Garrel who saw film as an integral instrument of protest were galvanized into direct social action, hurling rocks (as well as more incendiary objects) at riot police during the infamous Night of the Barricades (a personal watershed that Garrel would also recreate in Regular Lovers).
Filmed in the smoldered ashes of the failed social revolution as Garrel and a community of young artists from Zanzibar film (a film collective of like minded, radicalized artists financed by heiress Sylvina Boissonnas) abandoned the emblematic barricades of domestic protest and retreated to Africa to transfigure their ideological disappointment into subsumed cultural action through the creation of an intrinsically personal, revolutionary cinema, Le Lit de la vierge is, in a sense, the reconstitution of a fevered, post-traumatic creative manifesto - an impassioned, reflexive apologia composed in the fog of a drug-fueled delirium that not only reflected a not yet resigned sentiment of implicit denial over the failure of the revolution, but also served to reinforce the counter-culture generation's delusive posture as alienated and discarded messianic ideologues who, nevertheless, continue to hold the keys to an ever-receding utopian paradise. In presenting an idiosyncratically distorted embodiment (or perhaps, resurrection) of fringe society through a sensitive, misunderstood, outcast savior plagued by self-doubt and dispirited by a pervasive sense of impotence against the weight of human suffering, Garrel illustrates, not only the profound loneliness and alienation caused by a singularity of vision (a recurring idealized representation of the May 68 generation as well-intentioned holy innocents that seeks kinship not only with the abstracted heroes of Carl Theodor Dreyer's cinema - most notably, The Passion of Joan of Arc and Ordet - but also posits their intrinsic state of immanence, as revealed through their allusive alter-ego's consuming empathy for the oppressed and the marginalized (an altruistic desire for connectedness that is reflected in Jesus' despair over the seemingly anachronistic sight of bohemians being harassed by authorities within the sanctity of their own commune-like cavern dwellings).
But more intriguingly, Garrel's fusion of iconic cultural history and allegorical social commentary also provides the prescient framework for what would become the inevitable mythologization of the events of May 68, where personal memory has been tinted by the idealized nostalgia of unrealized history, and irreparably altered by the intoxicated haze of (trans)formative years lived under the influence - creating an illusive (and delusive) romanticism borne of a need to reconcile a generation's spiritual desolation with a sense of irrecoverable enlightenment that has been obscured (if not extinguished) by its own reclusive, escapist, and self-destructive behavior. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that the seemingly irreverent, Freudian casting of Zouzou in the dual role of the Virgin Mary and Marie Magdalène alludes to a duality of human nature that filmmaker Jean Eustache would subsequently explore in The Mother and the Whore, a film that also chronicles a moral self-destruction in the aftermath of the failed revolution. It is this perverted romanticization of incorruptible idealism and integrality of vision that is inevitably captured in the film's final image of Jesus marching out to sea that, like the indelible image of the wide-eyed innocent child of Le Révélateur, becomes a symbolic act of willful resistance against the raging tide - a gesture, not of benevolent self-sacrifice, but a staged, empty spectacle of quixotic defiance.

Le Révélateur, 1968

revelateur.gifOne of the experimental works created from the cadre of radical, emerging artists financed under the rubric of Zanzibar films that captured the spirit of May 68 and the counter culture revolution, Philippe Garrel's silent film Le Révélateur is a fractured and elliptical, but instinctive, elemental, and haunting rumination on the process of awakening, maturation, psychological trauma, and transformation of childhood memory. As the film begins, the révélateur - the processor of the images - is embodied through the isolated, spotlighted shot of a young boy (Stanislas Robiolles) in the corner of the frame, looking on as his father (Laurent Terzieff), apparently unaware of his presence in the room, struggles to connect with his abstracted mother (Bernadette Lafont) in an act of implied intimacy through the (iconic) sharing of a cigarette before fading into the proverbial background through a doorway suffused in a halo of light. But despite the physical act of transitory connection, what is ultimately retained in the child's camera/eye is not the residual image of tenderness and affection, but rather, a pattern of codependency, manipulation, madness, isolation, and perhaps even violence - an estrangement that is prefigured in the Freudian, reverse pietà image of the child emerging from a long, dark passageway towards his kneeling mother held in (apparently) resigned captivity tied to a cross at the end of the tunnel - a sense of pervasive emotional alienation and moral bondage that is further reinforced by the austerity and desolation of a seemingly godless, post-apocalyptic landscape. Pursued by an unseen, anonymous, but ubiquitous enemy (perhaps an allusion to the faceless nature of the embedded, guerrilla warfare tactics of the Vietnam War), the young family is compelled to leave the comfort of their dysfunctional home life and embark on an interminable journey to nowhere. Reduced to a life of perpetual exile and transience, the child begins to rebel, a defiance of parental control that is manifested in an act of literal repellance through his directed, repeated triggering of an aerosol can (in an elegantly composed, superimposed traveling shot) that further underscores his willful, symbolic act of distanciation from his parents. Reinforced by the subsequent shot of his parents posed as seeming trophy heads displayed on the corners of his headboard, the macabre image serves, not only to illustrate their role as trophic figures that he is weaning away from, but also represent their figurative impotence in his inevitable process of autonomy and independence. Concluding with the child donning his makeshift armor as he heads towards the sea, the image evokes a more primal Antoine Doinel (the adolescent alterego of François Truffaut's The 400 Blows) facing an alien and inalterable horizon - a silent and quixotic defiance against the oppressive and implacable forces of a cruel and inhuman human nature.

Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights..., 1985

Faceted, fragmented, and oneiric, Philippe Garrel's Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights... (She Spent So Many Hours Under the Sun Lamps) is more exorcism than expurgation, elegy than lamentation - an abstract, yet lucid chronicle of love and loss, death and birth sublimated through textural, self-reflexive impressions, visceral gestures, and metaphoric tableaux. A profoundly personal film dedicated to the memory of friend and fellow filmmaker (and May 68 idealist) Jean Eustache, and haunted by the unreconciled specter of Garrel's failed relationship with Nico, the film opens to a crepuscular image of a couple - perhaps an actor and his lover (Jacques Bonnaffé and Anne Wiazemsky) as apparent surrogates for Garrel and Nico - in the midst of a breakup on a public street on a cold, winter evening, as their seemingly tenuous reconciliation is truncated by the subsequent shot of the couple returning home, and an all too familiar rupture as she once again lapses into the desensitized haze of heroin addiction in the distraction of his preoccupying rehearsals. A seemingly isolated shot of another woman, an actress named Marie (Mireille Perrier) waiting in the office of the Ministry of Art subsequently connects the troubled couple through the sound of the rapid, half-whisper, off-screen script reading, first by the actor preparing for the role in the apartment, then subsequently by the voice of the filmmaker, Philippe (Philippe Garrel) as he casts her in his latest project - the seemingly disparate narrative arcs reconciled through the intersection of the autobiographical nature of Philippe's proposed project inspired by his own tumultuous relationship with model, singer, actress, and muse Nico (a transparency between art and life that is further compounded by the eventual appearance of Garrel as the director of the "film within a film" film). Another break in logic is created in the long shot of the actor, in the role of the film director, discarding a film reel from a bridge overlooking the river before meeting Marie, initially unfolding as the shooting of a film scene through the transformation of Marie's visage at the moment of performance, but subsequently subverted by the repeated episode of the couple - perhaps no longer acting in character - driving away, a romantic liaison that is reinforced by a subsequent, silent image of the couple engaged in an (apparently) intimate conversation.
Gradually, the bounds between reality and fiction begin to disintegrate in the interpenetration of dreams and memories, passions and anxieties, becoming increasingly fractured and irresolvable. Like his alter-ego character on the bridge, Philippe has grown apprehensive over the seeming irresolution of the film, and enlists the aid of friends: Chantal Akerman who is, uncoincidentally in the process of shooting The Eighties, a metafilm on the nature of repetition and performance); Christa, also played by Wiazemsky, and who, in turn, also evokes a self-reflexive, permeable reality through reconstructed, iconic poses that not only allude to Nico's early career as a fashion model, but also mimic the Bressonian model figuration of her character, Marie in Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar); and actor Lou Castel, whose "new" character is introduced midway through the film shoot as Marie's new paramour (and indirectly, replacing Philippe - through his alter-ego - from her life). It is interesting to note that in introducing Castel into the film, Philippe not only enables a means of closure for his failed relationship with his former lover through their surrogate selves, but also illustrates the emotional process of transference, transition, and figurative rebirth. In essence, the transfiguration of death - subliminally illustrated, initially, through the liberating image of Marie riding carefree in an automobile to the music of Nico that serves as an evocative counterpoint to Jean Eustache's debilitation from a car accident, then subsequently, through the shot of a somber Garrel standing beside a collapsed noose that alludes to Eustache's suicide - inevitably paves the way for the film's second chapter (and metaphoric turning point), La Nativité. Inspired by the birth of his son, Louis (and who would later appear Emergency Kisses and Regular Lovers), the film dissolves into an instinctual collage of quotidian portraitures - of actors waiting, pacing, observing - of temps morts. Concluding with the elliptical, parting shot of Philippe standing by a window in visible discomfort as evening approaches, his suffering becomes as a double entendred, metaphoric representation: the physical withdrawal (whether through substance abuse or the separation of death) of profound loss, and the implacable - but necessary - ache of realized creation. - filmref.com/

Voluptuous Defeat: Philippe Garrel and LES AMANTS RÉGULIERS

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

Commissioned by Sight and Sound, and written for their August 2006 issue. — J.R.
Considering how much admiration I have for the films of Philippe Garrel, it’s hard to avoid some feelings of guilt and consternation for not liking them more –  especially when I consider how much they mean to others whose tastes I admire. Why do I find myself preferring the work of his best-known disciple, Leos Carax?
This is a problem I’ve been wrestling with for a quarter of a century. For the past decade, I’ve been trying to theorize my disaffection by ascribing the passion of my younger friends for this melancholy star of the French underground to a generational taste I can’t share. In some respects, I even like the way they like Garrel’s films more than I like the films themselves. They generate a kind of awe that few other filmmakers inspire, and the fact that he’s a minority taste in no way disqualifies him from being a major talent.
These far-flung cinéphiles, all born around 1960, include Nicole Brenez, based in Paris; Alexander Horwath, based in Vienna; Kent Jones, based in New York; and Adrian Martin, based in Melbourne —- all of whom share similarly acute feelings for John Cassavetes, Abel Ferrara, Monte Hellman, and Maurice Pialat. They all collaborated on a 2003 book I co-edited with Martin, Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia (BFI Publishing) -— a book that started out as an attempt to account for their curious synchronicity of interests. More recently, I’ve been discussing Garrel’s latest film with South Korean cinéphiles who saw it at the Jeonju International Film Festival, many of whom singled it out as their favorite film of the past year —- a sentiment shared by several western friends and acquaintances.
Strangely, most die-hard Garrel fans I know were born over a decade later than him, whereas I was born five years earlier. So the problem obviously can’t be reduced to simple time frames. I feel far more in tune with Jean Eustache, born in 1958, and Jacques Rivette, born in 1928, than I do with Garrel, born in 1948. The post-1968 political despair in the separate 12 and 4-hour versions of Rivette’s Out 1 (1971/72) and Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (1973) all speak to me directly and even urgently, whereas Garrel’s recent Les Amants Réguliers (Regular Lovers, 2004), which attacks the same subject in an even more literal fashion, seems to be addressing a different constituency entirely.
Rivette’s desperate vision is fully tuned into 60s madness and Eustache’s angry vision is equally tuned into 60s neurosis. But Garrel’s lament is neither desperate nor angry, and his `regular’ lovers are basically innocents, basking or drowning in the banality of bourgeois comforts. Maybe my friends and I were doing the same thing, but I can’t recognize the portrait either poetically or otherwise. Rightly or wrongly, we were fighting a game that had stakes; these charming deadbeats don’t appear to be.
At least I can agree with my younger friends that Garrel’s three-hour epic about Parisian youth in 1968 belongs somewhere near the peak of his oeuvre to date. Shot in exquisite high-contrast black and white by William Lubtchansky, and virtually beginning with an account of the May ’68 street skirmishes, it distills the brooding melancholy of Garrel’s work as a whole into a nocturnal reverie about retreat that certainly reverberates. But I can’t say I’m easily reconciled with the hopelessness of its vision, So maybe it can also serve as a useful index of why and how certain tastes and historical understandings differ.
As a side-product of my long-term theorizing, I was honored to have been the sole dissenter invited in June 2001 to participate in what was probably the only Garrel conference that has ever been held anywhere. As an immediate follow-up to the four-day For Ever Godard symposium held at the London’s Tate Modern, a much more modest but no less intense two-day gathering, Garrel éternel, was held at Dublin’s Irish Film Centre. The combined panelists and audience came to scarcely more than a dozen people, but the energy never flagged.
An observation emerging shortly afterwards in the online Senses of Cinema, in an open letter to Martin from the conference’s organizer, Fergus Daly, came closest to explaining my distance from the others. Alluding to `this preoccupation with the couple and little else (a persistent one in Garrel),’ Daly noted that ‘For those like you and I who developed their affective lines of investment and expectation as adolescents in the late ’70s, politics in the accepted (macro-) sense was already a thing of the past — art and love seemed the only things that mattered.’
This is clearly true of the characters during the second two-thirds of Les Amants Réguliers. And it can’t help but affect the way we view the characters’ politics —- and how we view the characters politically — during the first third.
Garrel’s first films were made in his teens, shortly before the upheavals of ’68; apart from the one-hour, black and white Le Révélateur, which was briefly available in France on video, these remain impossible for most people to see today. Based on what I’ve sampled, and not counting his TV commissions of that period (basically documentaries, including one about Godard), they resemble his subsequent work insofar as they’re mainly autobiographical, focus on homey and everyday details while remaining detached and painterly, inspired by silent cinema (and, in the case of Le Révélateur — which critic Brad Stevens has compared to David Lynch’s The Grandmother —- literally silent), and employ actors associated with the French New Wave (including Garrel’s own father Maurice, who worked for Jacques Rozier and François Truffaut, as well as Bernadette Lafont, Jean-Pierre Léaud, and Zouzou). And unlike many other experimental films, they’re mostly in 35-millimeter.
Some of Garrel’s more ambitious films of the ‘60s and ‘70s also take on certain epic and mythopoetic dimensions. The best known of these is probably his 1971 La Cicatrice Intérieure (The Inner Scar), shot in deserts found in Egypt, Iceland, Italy, and New Mexico, with Pierre Clémenti, Clémenti’s infant son Balthazar, Daniel Pommereuille, Garrel himself, and Warhol superstar Nico. The latter went on to become the love of Garrel’s life; his next half-dozen films were made with her, and it appears that most of those made after their separation and her death continue to evoke her in one way or another. The only other Garrel film with Nico I’ve seen, Les Hautes Solitudes (1974), is another silent feature, relatively non-fictional; Jean Seberg, Tina Aumont, and Laurent Terzieff also appear in it, and the voyeuristic way it views Seberg, sometimes while she’s either sleeping or just waking up, struck me as intrusive when I saw it at the Dublin conference. It’s a development that heralds some of the more violent psychodramas found in the later narrative features.
Since the ‘70s, Garrel has spent much of his time recasting his brooding style in terms more compatible with narrative conventions and arthouse norms — Brenez has written persuasively about the ways his films might be regarded as Bressonian — while sustaining most of his autobiographical preoccupations and never compromising his vision one iota. The influence of silent cinema, for instance, remains in force, becoming especially apparent in his uses of solo piano for musical accompaniments, including the effective score by Jean-Claude Vannier in Les Amants Réguliers. No less relevant are tat film’s poetic intertitles introducing various sections — despite the irony with which they’re used, which often seems to reflect the irony of the brief, enigmatic fantasy sequences evoking 18th century military battles. In both these instances, Garrel seems to be looking back on his younger self with a certain indulgent skepticism, meanwhile projecting an overall sympathy towards all his other characters, including even the cops, that is both refreshing and unexpected. Gabe Klinger, writing online, has even plausibly compared him to Jean Renoir.
Until fairly recently, the Paris Cinémathèque was mainly inhospitable to and incurious about contemporary experimental films. But Garrel, a particular favorite of Henri Langlois (who regarded La Cicatrice Intérieure as a ‘total masterpiece’), was a notable exception, and the fact that he grew up in some proximity to the local film world because of his father probably helped to establish him early on as a legendary as well as highly respected figure. As Cahiers du Cinéma’s Jean Douchet has observed, Garrel `occupies a singular position within French cinema’ because his ‘small but devoted public’ is essentially the one that has traditionally developed in France around poets. (Douchet adds that Garrel’s tradition is closer to André Breton’s in his Nadja mode than to Jean Cocteau’s, and that `his cinema descends in a direct line from that of Lumière, not that of Méliès.’)
As with Werner Schroeter in West Germany and Carmelo Bene in Italy —- two other avant-garde masters of slow-motion portraiture who developed over the same period — another pertinent parallel might be to chamber music. Even though Garrel pitched his own tent far from the operatic and camp registers of Schroeter and Bene, there’s a similar sense of transporting the viewer to a meditative, almost nonnarrative realm, a soft and somber perpetual present similar to the intimate world of a string quartet. Whatever one’s qualms, it’s a kind of cinema that needs defending today more than ever. Thanks to digital technology, making chamber pieces is theoretically much easier than it used to be, yet thanks to advertising and multicorporate monopolies, finding one’s way to such works and other niche market items is a good deal harder.
In this respect, Garrel might be regarded as a kind of romantic luxury that only a culture such as France’s can fully support, or perhaps envision: relatively free from most commercial restraints, including many of the usual obligations associated with telling a story; surviving on the fringes of art cinema (where Garrel eventually settled by the early 80s) while retaining the same overall ambitions; defiantly remaining, as Kent Jones put it in the title of one appreciation, ‘Sad But Proud of It’.
It isn’t clear to me whether Garrel met Nico before or after he became a heroin addict. I suspect it was after, because opium plays a significant role in Les Amants Réguliers and Nico, apart from the use of her song “Vegas,” seemingly doesn’t — though it’s surely wrong to treat the autobiographical elements in his films too literally. But it does seem evident that Nico and heroin were the two key elements in Garrel’s life during the ‘70s, that they largely overlap, and that they both have haunted his work ever since. François, the 20-year-old hero of Les Amants Réguliers, played by his son Louis, is identified as a talented poet but not as a filmmaker, and Lilie (Clotilde Hesme), his lover, whom he meets on the streets during May ’68, is a French sculptress of roughly the same age, not a German-born pop vocalist who’s ten years older.
Among the psychodramas of Garrel that I’ve seen, the two that I’ve found most compelling are Liberté, la nuit (1983) and La Naissance de l’amour (The Birth of Love, 1993), both in black and white. The former — Garrel’s only period film prior to Les Amants Réguliers — is set during the Algerian war and has highly emotional performances by Emmanuelle Riva, Maurice Garrel, and Christine Boisson. The latter oscillates between an actor (Lou Castel) undergoing a midlife crisis who periodically leaves his wife, teenage son, and infant daughter to sleep with younger women and a friend of his (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a blocked writer who’s just been ditched by his girlfriend and can’t get over her.
Sometimes Garrel’s films are sufficiently direct in their personal references to be about filmmakers            and filmmaking. The most complex example is Elle a passé tant d’heures sous les sunlights (1984),   which contrives to alternate the stories of two filmmaking couples in a splintered, ambiguous fashion, mixing documentary and self-referential fiction while also including Garrel’s interviews with Chantal Akerman and Jacques Doillon. This 35mm black and white feature led to a 16mm color television documentary four years later, Les Ministères de l’Art, dedicated to the memory of Eustache. Here       Garrel interrogates not only Akerman and Doillon, but also, among others, Léaud, Carax, Juliet Berto,      Benoît Jacquot, André Téchiné, and Werner Schroeter, most often while taking extended walks with them.    He also manages to show his five-year-old son Louis, the future star of Les Amants Réguliers, riding       a tricycle around in circles while he pontificates nearby.
Finally, in Sauvage innocence (2001), we find a bitter personal allegory (as well as a teasing film à clé) about filmmaking, again in black and white. A filmmaker (Mehdi Belhaj Kacem) whose wife dies from a drug overdose arranges to make an autobiographical, anti-heroin feature, meanwhile becoming involved with his star (Julia Faure). Then, after he loses financing, he finds it again in exchange for helping the new producer (Michel Subor) — an addict who has meanwhile hooked his leading lady —- smuggle a large quantity of heroin into France.
Louis Garrel costarred as one of the three young leads in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003), another film set around May ’68. This has understandably led many to interpret Les Amants Réguliers as Garrel’s response to that film —- an interpretation he encourages when he has his characters briefly mention Prima della rivoluzione (1964) and cite Bertolucci by name. It also should be noted that Louis Garrel is one of the clearest assets of both films —-not only due to his skill as an actor but because he physically evokes the era in question, often calling to mind Léaud.
But it should be stressed that the characters he plays in the two films are different, even if both come from unusually privileged and educated backgrounds. Theo — his more cocky character in The Dreamers, who throws a Molotov cocktail just to be part of the action — is a far cry from François, a more vulnerable and sheltered youth who isn’t even sure he should publish his poems (‘It would feel like betraying something — although I don’t know what’) — though his writing talent is seemingly what wins him a suspended sentence when he comically goes to trial for evading the draft. (Warning: spoilers ahead.) François, who’s ultimately both likable and doomed, can’t even survive the shock of Lilie breaking up with him —- an act rendered in a masterful two-minute take, shot on the street.

The Dreamers
was supposed to show how great it was in 1968 to be young and horny and in Paris and political and smitten with movies seen at the Cinémathèque. But I must confess I was all of those things and the movie brought back none of my experience — perhaps because it was aimed at viewers the same age as Gilbert Adair’s and Bertolucci’s characters, not at me, even though one of those characters was an American cinephile like myself. Admittedly, I’d arrived in Paris that summer by mid-June, just after the police had taken the Odéon Theatre back from the students and cleared away the makeshift street barricades. But remnants of felled trees still lined portions of Boulevard St-Michel, and the city felt strangely energized. I found myself fleeing from a police charge one day and getting a sudden and potent whiff of tear gas on another.
Garrel’s film is only about French kids, and it starts rather than ends with the May events. It understandably feels much more authentic because Garrel was a participant in the May events (albeit a `very nonviolent’ one, by his own account) as well as an observer. As filmmaker Jackie Raynal, who worked as Garrel’s editor and assistant director during this period, once told me in an interview, ‘Godard had an Alfa Romeo with a 35mm camera [at the time], and he and Alain Jouffroy and Garrel went around shooting footage,’ adding that, ‘Because of the Alfa Romeo, the police left them alone.’ (The ten-minute collective film that resulted, Actua I, which Godard has praised, was lost in a processing lab and never seen again.)
Authentic or not, Garrel’s treatment of the event is arguably no less postpolitical (or prepolitical) than Bertolucci’s. One can admire his honesty about his characters’ overall lethargy without being entranced by the lethargy itself, as some viewers apparently are. (Paradoxically, the nostalgia attached nowadays to black and white films automatically gives this film’s surfaces a certain allure.) Given how supportive Francois’ parents (and his grandfather, played by Maurice Garrel) are of his street activism, he doesn’t come across as much of a rebel. The political discourse we hear (‘Organizing is for sheep; what we want is anarchism’; ‘Can we make a revolution for the working class despite the working class?’) certainly matches the flavor of the period, but its overall function in the film isn’t very far from that of period décor.
Above all, the importance of drugs in Francois’ life is established even before his political concerns are faintly broached — with the result that they can’t help but inform his politics. It isn’t clear to me if he’s smoking hashish or opium with his friends in an early scene. But even if it’s the former, opium clearly becomes the drug of choice soon afterwards. And you don’t have to read the Appendix to William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch to understand that the philosophical and political implications of hallucinogenic drugs and those of opiates are virtually antithetical, and were understood as such by a good many radicals of the ‘60s.
This isn’t an understanding Garrel appears to have much truck with. It’s a comprehensible position for a former heroin addict to have, but it can’t illuminate why radicals who smoked grass in the ‘60s didn’t regard their activity as a political copout, whereas those who favored heroin were unlikely to be involved with any sort of politics, except peripherally. Maybe that’s why this film feels, like Keats in `Ode to a Nightingale,’ ‘half in love with easeful Death’ — almost viewing political defeat itself as a kind of voluptuous embrace.

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