Another quietly astounding monochrome miniature on love and other demons from the great French director Philippe Garrel.
The veteran French director Philippe Garrel is on a major roll at the moment. Since the release of his 2013 film, Jealousy, he’s hunkered down to focus on producing a series of faux-casual ruminations on the illusive qualities of fidelity. These films clock in at around the 70-minute mark are are jam-packed with meaty incident and tortured, humane characters. They focus on tiny rivulets of emotion and show a director using a camera as a way to understand his subjects and, by extension, people. These films somehow transcend banal empathy and trite philosophical guidance to become ethnological studies of the human animal.
His new film, Lover For a Day, looks like one more miniature treatise on romantic inscrutability for the pile, but it’s so much more than that. Garrel rehearses his actors and builds up his characters from a clay of pure emotion. It’s like these people are born into these stories rather than just switching on a new persona when the camera starts to roll. This one is about woman and the ways in which they can challenge old fashioned male attitudes of sexual dominance. A guy sleeps around and he’s a player, while a woman sleeps around and she’s a slut. That seems rather unfair.
Ariane (Louise Chevillote) and the older Gilles (Éric Caravaca) are teacher and student. In the film they are seen breaking in to a teachers only lavatory and having loud sex against the grimy wall. Theirs is a secret relationship that has blossomed into a conjugal bliss. They talk freely about their desires, and when their relationship does fall on the occasional sour moment, they remain coldly analytical about how to preserve this fairly utopian set-up.
Enter Gilles’ daughter Jeanne (Esther Garrel), her life in tailspin after she takes a heated argument with her boyfriend very seriously and chooses to act with her feet and move out. She tries to cloak her internal anguish while tucked away on he father’s sofa bed, all the while examining first hand the intriguing and potentially combustible tango that’s unfolding around her. Esther Garrel has the same thousand-yard poker face as her brother, Louis, but there’s far more capacity for ambiguous emotion in her wide eyes and soft features.
As the film’s centrepiece, Jeanne and Ariane go dancing in an attempt to forget their troubles and remind themselves that the possibility of no-strings sex is there for them. This beautifully choreographed sequence sees the camera swaying back and forth as random young men gnaw and nuzzle at their pray, while the women do their best to keep things civilised and let everyone know who’s boss.
With the help of an instructive narration, the film moves stealthily though a short block of time and leaves no embarrassing detail un-dredged. Information is gathered and used as a bargaining chip between allies, but the film never really moves into the terrain of theatrical backstabbing and double-crossing. It’s careful and poised cinema that hangs on every precious syllable. It’s ideas are deeply rooted within words and faces, there for the taking but never just handing over anything unbidden.
The art of flirting and flirting as art are the subjects of this extraordinary romcom from Claire Denis.
By Matt Thrift
The director has been producing casual masterpieces since 1964.