We expect the French to be very insouciant about trifles like infidelity and divorce, but the Garrels know better. The reigning first family of French cinema has long plumbed their very personal history for artistic inspiration.
After thoroughly examining his tempestuous relationship with 1960s singer Nico, Philippe Garrel puts his late actor father Maurice Garrel on the cinematic pop-psychology couch, casting his son Louis as Maurice. It is definitely a family affair. In fact, some of the father and son’s best work together coalesced in the senior Garrel’s “Jealousy.”
Known simply as “Louis,” Louis Garrel’s protagonist is leaving his wife and daughter for his sultry lover Claudia, much as his real-life grandfather did. The former cad will try to turn over a new leaf, striving to be a faithful lover and attentive father to his young daughter, Charlotte. Indeed, one should not impose slavish one-for-one symbolism on “Jealousy,” lest Charlotte be taken for an analog of the filmmaker himself.
In terms of narrative, “Jealousy” is a simple story of a relationship that starts out full of passion and hope but eventually turns sour. The differences between Louis and Claudia are not immediately apparent, but they prove too profound to withstand.
Although they are both stage actors, she has not worked in years, whereas he constantly takes low-to-no-paying gigs. Despite the occasional flirtation, he takes his commitment to Claudia seriously, whereas she adopts an attitude of what-he-doesn’t-know-can’t-hurt-him.
“Jealousy” is an intimate film, in the Cassavetes sense, but it is stylish and accessible. It might also represent Louis Garrel’s finest screen turn to date. Frankly, in past outings, he has perhaps tried too hard, projecting a cloyingly boyish persona (as in “Love Songs” and “Making Plans for Lena”).
However, there is nothing twee or affected about his work in “Jealousy”—no sheepish invitation to ruffle his locks. It is a more mature, Zen-like performance that pulls us into the character’s life, engendering understanding and even sympathy.
Although he did not try to play his grandfather outright, he presumably had more to draw upon from personal experience than had he portrayed some distant literary or historical figure.
Anna Mouglalis (the better of the competing Chanels in “Coco Channel & Igor Stravinsky”) also fleshes out some surprisingly deep dimensions in the impulsive Claudia. It is a bold, earthy turn that impresses.
Yet nobody can match young Olga Milshtein as the precociously wise and winning Charlotte. Completing the Garrel family quota, Louis’s sister Esther Garrel brings some verve and energy as his on-screen namesake sibling.
Willy Kurant’s black-and-white cinematography arrestingly heightens the on-screen emotional conflict. It is a lovely picture that evokes the filmmaker’s earlier pictures, like “Emergency Kisses,” but it feels considerably less self-conscious.
Philippe Garrel’s films may still be an acquired taste, but “Jealousy” is the right thin edge of the wedge to start with. Recommended for those who appreciate French post-Wave auteurs and chamber drama in general, “Jealousy” opens this Friday, Aug. 15, in New York at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit www.jbspins.blogspot.com
Director: Philippe Garrel
Starring: Louis Garrel, Anna Mouglalis, Rebecca Convenant, Olga Milshtein, Esther Garrel
Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes
Release date: Aug. 15
4 stars out of 5