Comparisons between Philippe Garrel and Éric Rohmer were never completely inapt, because both French filmmakers had a knack for uncomfortably intimate relationship dramas. Some of us maybe didn’t realize it until now, but Garrel has completed a Rohmeresque thematic trilogy exploring the darker emotions associated with love. In the Shadow of Women addresses lust, whereas the subject of Jealousy is announced up front. This time around, Garrel examines fidelity, something cineastes probably considered to be positive and even laudable, at least before we saw it as the focal point of a Garrel film. Garrel is very Garrelian, but it is his daughter Esther rather than son Louis who co-stars in Lover for a Day (trailer here), which screens as a Main Slate selection of the 55th New York Film Festival.
Having been dumped by her boyfriend Mateo and evicted from his flat, Jeanne has no choice but to seek shelter with her teacher father. However, she is rather surprised to learn middle-aged Gilles is cohabitating with a student roughly her own age. Initially, there is tension between Ariane and Jeanne, as they resent any form of attention Gilles bestows on the other. Yet, slowly and steadily, the two young women form a truce and share confidences. Ariane tries to instill in Jeanne a more casual approach to love and sex, to counteract her unhealthy fixation on Mateo. Given her sensitive temperament, it will be hard for Jeanne to put her advice into practice, nor does it necessarily reflect Gilles’ relationship notions.
Like all of Garrel’s films, Lover is talky rather than plotty, but like the best of them, there are some remarkably resonant moments. Renato Berta’s lovely black-and-white cinematography greatly helps evoke that late-night, soul-bearing vibe. Even when the characters are out and about at high noon, the film still has a 2:00 feel to it.
Without her famous brother to overshadow her, Esther Garrel really comes into her own as Jeanne. It is not necessarily a “likable” performance, but it is uncomfortably real and brittle, in a nakedly vulnerable kind of way. In her feature debut, Louise Chevillotte’s work as Ariane is admirably complex and notably restrained. Éric Caravaca’s Gilles is a suitably Garrel-ish, hypocritical man, but his resemblance to the late Benoît Régent, co-star of Garrel’s grueling masterwork I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar, adds a further element of eeriness.
We do not really remember Jealousy and Shadow being pitched as part of trilogy (thematic or otherwise), but they are easily retconned into a Rohmeresque series of moral tales. They also happen to be particularly strong yet highly representative Garrel films. Perhaps most significantly, the third film could be remembered as the film in which Esther Garrel decisively staked her claim to the family business. Recommended for fans of Garrel, Rohmer, and maybe even Cassavetes, Lover for a Day screens tomorrow (10/10) and Wednesday (10/11), as part of this year’s New York Film Festival.