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Philippe Garrel


May 16, 2007

Le Lit de la vierge, 1969

lit_vierge.gifThere is an understatedly crystalline moment in Le Lit de la vierge (The Virgin's Bed) when the scarlet woman, Marie Magdalène (Zouzou), having encountered the fragile and aimless Jesus (Pierre Clémenti) for the first time, cryptically explains that the men of the village pay for her company through the archaic currency of stones - and along the way, has amassed a collection that seemingly serves no other purpose than to have the potential having things to throw. The allusion to the casting of stones proves particularly incisive, not only within the loose, Biblical allegory of Philippe Garrel's reconfigured tale of a dislocated, modern-day prophet who crosses paths with (and shows compassion towards) an adulterous woman, but also within the contemporaneity of the widespread social unrest that had defined the political and moral climate of May 68 - a turbulent, yet profoundly transformative era when emboldened, young radicals like Garrel who saw film as an integral instrument of protest were galvanized into direct social action, hurling rocks (as well as more incendiary objects) at riot police during the infamous Night of the Barricades (a personal watershed that Garrel would also recreate in Regular Lovers).

Filmed in the smoldered ashes of the failed social revolution as Garrel and a community of young artists from Zanzibar film (a film collective of like minded, radicalized artists financed by heiress Sylvina Boissonnas) abandoned the emblematic barricades of domestic protest and retreated to Africa to transfigure their ideological disappointment into subsumed cultural action through the creation of an intrinsically personal, revolutionary cinema, Le Lit de la vierge is, in a sense, the reconstitution of a fevered, post-traumatic creative manifesto - an impassioned, reflexive apologia composed in the fog of a drug-fueled delirium that not only reflected a not yet resigned sentiment of implicit denial over the failure of the revolution, but also served to reinforce the counter-culture generation's delusive posture as alienated and discarded messianic ideologues who, nevertheless, continue to hold the keys to an ever-receding utopian paradise. In presenting an idiosyncratically distorted embodiment (or perhaps, resurrection) of fringe society through a sensitive, misunderstood, outcast savior plagued by self-doubt and dispirited by a pervasive sense of impotence against the weight of human suffering, Garrel illustrates, not only the profound loneliness and alienation caused by a singularity of vision (a recurring idealized representation of the May 68 generation as well-intentioned holy innocents that seeks kinship not only with the abstracted heroes of Carl Theodor Dreyer's cinema - most notably, The Passion of Joan of Arc and Ordet - but also posits their intrinsic state of immanence, as revealed through their allusive alter-ego's consuming empathy for the oppressed and the marginalized (an altruistic desire for connectedness that is reflected in Jesus' despair over the seemingly anachronistic sight of bohemians being harassed by authorities within the sanctity of their own commune-like cavern dwellings).

But more intriguingly, Garrel's fusion of iconic cultural history and allegorical social commentary also provides the prescient framework for what would become the inevitable mythologization of the events of May 68, where personal memory has been tinted by the idealized nostalgia of unrealized history, and irreparably altered by the intoxicated haze of (trans)formative years lived under the influence - creating an illusive (and delusive) romanticism borne of a need to reconcile a generation's spiritual desolation with a sense of irrecoverable enlightenment that has been obscured (if not extinguished) by its own reclusive, escapist, and self-destructive behavior. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that the seemingly irreverent, Freudian casting of Zouzou in the dual role of the Virgin Mary and Marie Magdalène alludes to a duality of human nature that filmmaker Jean Eustache would subsequently explore in The Mother and the Whore, a film that also chronicles a moral self-destruction in the aftermath of the failed revolution. It is this perverted romanticization of incorruptible idealism and integrality of vision that is inevitably captured in the film's final image of Jesus marching out to sea that, like the indelible image of the wide-eyed innocent child of Le Révélateur, becomes a symbolic act of willful resistance against the raging tide - a gesture, not of benevolent self-sacrifice, but a staged, empty spectacle of quixotic defiance.

Posted by acquarello on May 16, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Philippe Garrel


January 2, 2007

Le Révélateur, 1968

revelateur.gifOne of the experimental works created from the cadre of radical, emerging artists financed under the rubric of Zanzibar films that captured the spirit of May 68 and the counter culture revolution, Philippe Garrel's silent film Le Révélateur is a fractured and elliptical, but instinctive, elemental, and haunting rumination on the process of awakening, maturation, psychological trauma, and transformation of childhood memory. As the film begins, the révélateur - the processor of the images - is embodied through the isolated, spotlighted shot of a young boy (Stanislas Robiolles) in the corner of the frame, looking on as his father (Laurent Terzieff), apparently unaware of his presence in the room, struggles to connect with his abstracted mother (Bernadette Lafont) in an act of implied intimacy through the (iconic) sharing of a cigarette before fading into the proverbial background through a doorway suffused in a halo of light. But despite the physical act of transitory connection, what is ultimately retained in the child's camera/eye is not the residual image of tenderness and affection, but rather, a pattern of codependency, manipulation, madness, isolation, and perhaps even violence - an estrangement that is prefigured in the Freudian, reverse pietà image of the child emerging from a long, dark passageway towards his kneeling mother held in (apparently) resigned captivity tied to a cross at the end of the tunnel - a sense of pervasive emotional alienation and moral bondage that is further reinforced by the austerity and desolation of a seemingly godless, post-apocalyptic landscape. Pursued by an unseen, anonymous, but ubiquitous enemy (perhaps an allusion to the faceless nature of the embedded, guerrilla warfare tactics of the Vietnam War), the young family is compelled to leave the comfort of their dysfunctional home life and embark on an interminable journey to nowhere. Reduced to a life of perpetual exile and transience, the child begins to rebel, a defiance of parental control that is manifested in an act of literal repellance through his directed, repeated triggering of an aerosol can (in an elegantly composed, superimposed traveling shot) that further underscores his willful, symbolic act of distanciation from his parents. Reinforced by the subsequent shot of his parents posed as seeming trophy heads displayed on the corners of his headboard, the macabre image serves, not only to illustrate their role as trophic figures that he is weaning away from, but also represent their figurative impotence in his inevitable process of autonomy and independence. Concluding with the child donning his makeshift armor as he heads towards the sea, the image evokes a more primal Antoine Doinel (the adolescent alterego of François Truffaut's The 400 Blows) facing an alien and inalterable horizon - a silent and quixotic defiance against the oppressive and implacable forces of a cruel and inhuman human nature.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 02, 2007 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2007, Philippe Garrel


November 16, 2006

Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights..., 1985

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Faceted, fragmented, and oneiric, Philippe Garrel's Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights... (She Spent So Many Hours Under the Sun Lamps) is more exorcism than expurgation, elegy than lamentation - an abstract, yet lucid chronicle of love and loss, death and birth sublimated through textural, self-reflexive impressions, visceral gestures, and metaphoric tableaux. A profoundly personal film dedicated to the memory of friend and fellow filmmaker (and May 68 idealist) Jean Eustache, and haunted by the unreconciled specter of Garrel's failed relationship with Nico, the film opens to a crepuscular image of a couple - perhaps an actor and his lover (Jacques Bonnaffé and Anne Wiazemsky) as apparent surrogates for Garrel and Nico - in the midst of a breakup on a public street on a cold, winter evening, as their seemingly tenuous reconciliation is truncated by the subsequent shot of the couple returning home, and an all too familiar rupture as she once again lapses into the desensitized haze of heroin addiction in the distraction of his preoccupying rehearsals. A seemingly isolated shot of another woman, an actress named Marie (Mireille Perrier) waiting in the office of the Ministry of Art subsequently connects the troubled couple through the sound of the rapid, half-whisper, off-screen script reading, first by the actor preparing for the role in the apartment, then subsequently by the voice of the filmmaker, Philippe (Philippe Garrel) as he casts her in his latest project - the seemingly disparate narrative arcs reconciled through the intersection of the autobiographical nature of Philippe's proposed project inspired by his own tumultuous relationship with model, singer, actress, and muse Nico (a transparency between art and life that is further compounded by the eventual appearance of Garrel as the director of the "film within a film" film). Another break in logic is created in the long shot of the actor, in the role of the film director, discarding a film reel from a bridge overlooking the river before meeting Marie, initially unfolding as the shooting of a film scene through the transformation of Marie's visage at the moment of performance, but subsequently subverted by the repeated episode of the couple - perhaps no longer acting in character - driving away, a romantic liaison that is reinforced by a subsequent, silent image of the couple engaged in an (apparently) intimate conversation.

Gradually, the bounds between reality and fiction begin to disintegrate in the interpenetration of dreams and memories, passions and anxieties, becoming increasingly fractured and irresolvable. Like his alter-ego character on the bridge, Philippe has grown apprehensive over the seeming irresolution of the film, and enlists the aid of friends: Chantal Akerman who is, uncoincidentally in the process of shooting The Eighties, a metafilm on the nature of repetition and performance); Christa, also played by Wiazemsky, and who, in turn, also evokes a self-reflexive, permeable reality through reconstructed, iconic poses that not only allude to Nico's early career as a fashion model, but also mimic the Bressonian model figuration of her character, Marie in Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar); and actor Lou Castel, whose "new" character is introduced midway through the film shoot as Marie's new paramour (and indirectly, replacing Philippe - through his alter-ego - from her life). It is interesting to note that in introducing Castel into the film, Philippe not only enables a means of closure for his failed relationship with his former lover through their surrogate selves, but also illustrates the emotional process of transference, transition, and figurative rebirth. In essence, the transfiguration of death - subliminally illustrated, initially, through the liberating image of Marie riding carefree in an automobile to the music of Nico that serves as an evocative counterpoint to Jean Eustache's debilitation from a car accident, then subsequently, through the shot of a somber Garrel standing beside a collapsed noose that alludes to Eustache's suicide - inevitably paves the way for the film's second chapter (and metaphoric turning point), La Nativité. Inspired by the birth of his son, Louis (and who would later appear Emergency Kisses and Regular Lovers), the film dissolves into an instinctual collage of quotidian portraitures - of actors waiting, pacing, observing - of temps morts. Concluding with the elliptical, parting shot of Philippe standing by a window in visible discomfort as evening approaches, his suffering becomes as a double entendred, metaphoric representation: the physical withdrawal (whether through substance abuse or the separation of death) of profound loss, and the implacable - but necessary - ache of realized creation.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 16, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Philippe Garrel