Saturday, April 22


Date movies?

As Karl Marx once said that religion is the opiate of the masses, Philippe Garrel might say that opium is the opiate of bourgeois revolutionary artists. Garrel, perhaps most famous in general circles for his relationship with Nico, is the director of the Regular Lovers, a three-hour recollection of the events of French May and its aftermath as reflected in the lives of a young poet François (played by Garrel's son Louis) and his friends. I saw the film last night at a SFIFF screening (it plays again April 23 and 29). Festival director Graham Leggat succinctly introduced the film (after apologizing for the delay created by a last-minute decision to play it in two of the Kabuki's houses using interlocked projectors, to the relief of the folks with bad seats who were able to move to the other theatre) as "astringent" and "challenging", but I did not expect it to approach a Bela Tarr level of challenge (and reward), as it did in the wordless long-take chaos of the police vs. rioters sequence that makes up most of the first hour of the film. The trajectory of François from defiant young radical eager to call the bluff of The Establishment, to 20-year-old burnout, is clearly Garrel's parallel for his generation's political direction after May 1968. Blackened from the burning of automobiles and chased to the rooftops by the Paris cops, he is refused sanctuary by the average French citizen but eventually accepted by a hedonistic young patron of artists and drug connections named Antoine. Antoine is amiable to the idea of revolution but would rather drive a Jaguar than turn one on its side and use it as a barricade. He "doesn't believe in human generosity" but offers his cash, his home, and hits from his opium pipe to friends until they refuse, as François' fellow radical Jean-Christophe eventually does, one at a time.

François never does and inevitably it leads to his destruction. The revolutionary dream disappearing with barely a whimper. Garrel's metaphors are perhaps too neat and telegraphed with too much advance warning. But his foreboding foreshadows, combined with the sense of visual authenticity lent by crisp black-and-white photography reminiscent of nouvelle vague films or sometimes even an Andy Warhol Screen Test, rewrite the more common narrative associated with the era ("we thought we would change the world") with a fatalistic, pessimistic brush. The chief enigma of the film for me is the basis for the film's title. A great deal of the Regular Lovers follows François' romance with a gleaming-irised sculptor named Lilie (Clotilde Hesme), and while the scenes of Hesme and the young Garrel together have a wonderful naturalism to them, after a single viewing I'm unclear what Lilie really means for François; is she another distraction from the revolutionary path, or the last available life preserver on a ship sinking into an opium haze? Or both? In either case, the lovers' scenes often felt completely disconnected from the rest of the story.

With a visually stunning film like the Regular Lovers I don't consider this a complaint or criticism as much as a subject for further investigation, should I ever have the chance to see it again, which I doubt given the film's length and lack of commercial appeal. It's exactly the kind of film I'm thrilled to see at the festival. Unlike one of the films I caught at a SFIFF press screening, the Hungarian (but in no way reminiscent of Bela Tarr) See You in Space. If the love story was the least satisfying element of the Regular Lovers for me, at least it was part of a bold and unique film. See You in Space contains unsatisfying love stories too, at least four of them. But it tries to mask its shallow treatment of each by cutting back and forth between each of them as if it were the Budapest version of Crash (complete with contrived miracles, and even one uncomfortable scene that reinforces racial stereotypes while trying to scold them). In a way it's the perfect "date movie" for a couple looking to see a slightly cultured film that's about as aesthetically un-challenging as they get, and have an excuse to launch a discussion of their relationship afterward (because I don't think a discussion of the film itself is likely to last much more than a few minutes). Doesn't really matter what kind of relationship, as the film makes sure to superficially touch on all the main ones: long-distance (a cosmonaut and a dancer), age disparate (a hairdresser and her customer/victim), professionally forbidden (a psychologist and her patient), unfaithful, interracial, etc. And maybe there's nothing wrong with a "date movie" like See You in Space being part of the festival (it plays April 27, May 2 and May 4). I just wish I hadn't unwittingly picked such a clunker as one of my few luck-of-the-draw press screening experiences.

Excellent comments, Brian. I agree with you on both films (and in fact I walked out of that screening of See You In Space with about 15 minutes to go -- after the African photo-cutting nonsense -- so I was wondering what your impressions were.

You should check out The Dreamers. Garrel's film feels like a direct answer to Burtolucci, and while the Dreamers is entertaining, it's a cartoon next to Regular Lovers. I really felt like I was there, in Paris '68/'69, in the chaos and the aimlessness, and felt like I had some idea of what was driving (or stalling) these characters. I like how the riot has no real climax, no real drama. It's no football game. When Garrel hangs on the young sculptor's face when economic promises are dangled in front of her ... actually I don't have an end to this sentence. But I love all the connections between commerce and art.

Lovely film. A real fave of the fest for me so far.
Great write-up on "Regular Lovers", Brian, thanks! Saw it today and fully expect it to expand in my consciousness after I sit with it a while. As for "See You In Space", I caught that at one of the press screenings. Didn't care for it much. It was all over the place and couldn't hold together.
Brian, I'm with you on Regular Lovers; in fact, I'm pretty sure we were in the same screening of that film in "the other" theater Friday Night. ha!

Put a recap of the weekend over at my blog. Gonna "respond" to yours soon as I get back.
Thanks for the comments, all. Rob and Barry, I appreciate your writings that speak to the aspect of the film I most cowardly glossed over in awe of, the riot scenes. And I do hope to catch the Dreamers on of these days.

Michael, sorry we couldn't talk longer yesterday.
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