2005Director: Philippe Garrel
Cast: Louis Garrel, Clotilde Hesme, Julien Lucas
ulling off his boots after a disillusioning night at the barricades during the Paris rebellion of May 1968, 20-year-old François (Louis Garrel of Bertolucci’s The Dreamers) questions “whether a revolution of the working classes can occur despite the working classes.” This naïveté mixed with condescension signals the limits of Regular Lovers. A frequently inscrutable, three-hour study of arty youths after a sociopolitical flashpoint, the film is Philippe Garrel’s first to receive U.S. distribution during a career of four decades.
The first-act riot sequences of Regular Lovers, photographed in high-contrast black-and-white by Godard/Rivette veteran William Lubtchansky, are its most striking: abstract, minimalist, and smoky, its tableaux of May ’68 show truncheon-wielding cops chasing lone militants through brick alleys, with François’ smudged face a mask of terror as he creeps and rests in rooftop shadows. One static, minutes-long shot looks from behind a scattered line of helmeted protestors as they observe a burning car on the horizon, occasionally flinging a cobblestone at the unseen gendarmes, waiting for the next attack ... with a couple casually making out at the left of the frame. The band then appears in anachronistic peasant garb, wheeling a cannon into battle: playfulness laid on with a trowel.
Once the tear gas and clubbings fade into history and the revolution remains out of reach, François professes commitment only to love and poetry, but the actor’s quiet blankness and his father-director’s studied technique render the character as a near-cipher. As he’s not much of a rebel or an artist, we can’t be sure what he and his demimonde signify. The lugubrious second half of the film increasingly plays with boredom by doting on the youths’ toking, painting, shoplifting, and cop-dodging; unalloyed tedium seeps from Garrel and Lubtchansky’s monochrome images—these kids have nothing much to say, and their cheap thrills are mundane. Barely etched supporting characters with their own entanglements and frustrations are even less compelling than François. When one girl pronounces to another, “Morning is Italian, night is German,” you’re grateful for the dopey laugh. By the fourth hash pipe scene with the boys, I could execute a floor plan of the room with its cot, stash-laden safe, and key in a desktop skull, but was itching to fling the door open and hang out with Lilie.
As Lilie, the young sculptor and foundry worker who falls hard for François, Clotilde Hesme has Anna Karina bangs, an open face, and an infatuated glow that enlivens the movie when it’s badly needed, between the distended drug sequences. She is capable of confessing “I love him inside and out” to a friend, but the closest fix we get on the couple’s dynamic is when Lilie’s plea to live with François for life is met with his “Well, we may not live that much longer.” (She’s so devoted that after securing his permission to screw another boy, she returns to cuddle up and assure François that he’s much better hung than her playmate.) A long, wordless shot of Lilie on a couch as she contemplates a life in art without her lover is the movie’s closest approach to an emotional epiphany.
When François has his sole emotional outburst, waking with a sob upon dreaming that Lilie is gone, it’s a seismic jolt. If only we found evidence of this passion in his waking life. In mole-examining close-up, the director shoots his son in quiet repose—he’s even prone during the dance sequence—that would be deglamorizing if not for the actor’s Cupid’s-bow upper lip and dark, watchful features. But if he serves as a hunkier version of the searching Jean-Pierre Léaud figure in Godard’s ’60s films, François lacks the clumsy aggression and curiosity that made Léaud’s boy radicals worth tolerating at their worst.
Is this a stringently damning group portrait of youthful cultural hangover, or is Garrel just fatally neutral toward the louche? Regular Lovers ends on an unearned note of tragedy reminiscent of Masculin Féminin, but one much more likely to leave audiences nonplussed. The filmmaker’s protracted indulgence of his antihero’s vain, callow confusion of romance and liberation seems like perversely stilted kid’s stuff from an adult survivor who should know better.
After a limited theatrical run, Regular Lovers is scheduled to be released on DVD May 22.
By: Bill Weber
Published on: 2007-02-07
|Recent Features By This Author|