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PHILIPPE GARREL: LOVER FOR A DAY/L'AMANT D'UN JOUR (2017)

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LOUISE CHEVILLOTTE AND ESTHER GARREL IN LOVER FOR A DAY

Daddy issues

Philippe Garrel's new film, Lover for a Day/L'amant d'un jour, looks like a lot of his other work. It's filmed in stark but elegant 'scope black and white and focused on a middle-aged man and two young women. His numerous autobiographical films are much like this. And yet, like the other two in the trilogy this concludes, Jealousy (NYFF 2013) and In the Shadow of Women (NYFF 2015), this seeks to go in a new direction. Oddly enough, it's in a sense filmmaking by committee, with four screenwriting credits, notably two female. The screenwriters were Garrel; his wife the young writer-director Caroline Deruas (L'Indomptée); Maurice Pialat's former partner Arlette Langmann (À nous amours); and Luis Buñuel's prolific writing collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière - a distinguished crew indeed.

Garrel has said the woman's point of view was sought at every point for this film. He remains very much in charge stylistically, but the girls do take center stage. Far from Garrel's dreamy, epic evocation of 1967-68 Regular Lovers (NYFF 2005), this is certainly a relatively slight piece of work, yet the collective writing may conceal layers of complexity. But on the other hand Boyd van Hoeij, in Hollywood Reporter in one of the most perceptive reviews, points out it's the film's "problems with structure" that "keep it from greatness." And that's because it's not clear whose point of view it is.

The movie starts off with a bang, pun intended, a quick connection between a man and a woman in a hallway that concludes in a restroom - with a loud female orgasm. Such realistic lovemaking, and emphasis on the woman's pleasure, is unusual for this director, however sensual his films. Next we see a dark young woman, Jeanne (Garrel's daughter, Esther Garrel, better here than previously, though trying too hard) turn up at the small apartment of her philosophy prof dad, Gilles (Éric Caravaca,) exploding in a hysterical, unstoppable, body-shaking rush of tears. Feeling rejected by her boyfriend, Matéo (Paul Toucang), the first great love of her life, Jeanne has abruptly left him with nowhere else to go. But Jeanne finds out there's somebody else living chez papa, Ariane (Louise Chevillotte, a fresh face), one of her father's students, who's been his live-in lover for three months and is Jeanne's same age, 23.

Jeanne says this is okay. There's not much she could do about it anyway. In fact Ariane and Jeanne bond - sort of, Ariane providing Jeanne first with comfort, later with advice to try lightening up and having a quick affair or two.

Actually, there's something Electra complex-ish going on here, ultimately. The "lover for a day" is Ariane's, a pretty young man called Stéphane (Félix Kysyl), who she has quick stand-up sex with, and Jeanne engineers this relationship by introducing Ariane to him. Gilles immediately finds out about it and is horrified. He tells Ariane she has now turned out not to be the kind of person he had had in mind, though he acknowledges that he used to be like her, and had earlier said the relationship could be open-ended. He calls her now "a female Don Juan." Maybe he should have chosen somebody older? Gilles tells Ariane she has to move out, and Jeanne has the place, and her father, to herself.

Along the way, Garrel finds time in this very brief movie for several group scenes. There's one of dancing, which more briefly achieves some of the magic of the longer, signature sequence of Regular Lovers, along with a discussion by students and older men of the French-Algerian war. Both these show the atemporal quality of Garrel's movies. This one has contemporary notes, but a lot of it could be from the Sixties, the Seventies (the latter in a sense Garrel's heyday) or some other era. A timelessness is contributed by Renato Berta's cinematography. The images of kitchen, bedroom, and sidewalk are familiar ones from previous Garrel films. The notable use of an iPhone, and its context, themselves seem anachronistic.

The movie can be taken various ways, too. Most of the audience was respectful at the big New York Festival screening. Yet there was also constant tittering, not explainable by a the film's moments of intentional self-mockery. There is a certain elegance in Garrel's faithfulness to his resolutely small, personal, obsessive, almost zen focus on love triangles. Still they risk seeming indistinguishable and dispensable. And yet, despite missteps - a suicide attempt, a wrong turn toward porn photos, minor male actors who lack authority - Lover for a Day winds up charming the viewer, as its male anti-heroes do their young women.

Garrel rehearsed the film one day a week for a year, he explained, making the final actual, low-budget shoot fast and smooth. This is a method of more rigor that may also have conveyed more dryness. Was there room left for spontaneity? Sometimes hard not to think, while watching Lover for a Day, of Éric Rohmer's similarly themed yet so very different films, so bright and full of charm and light, technicolor being as essential to them as black and white seems to be to Garrel. Once Garrel had hardly any dialogue, but that distinction is no longer present. Not only do Jeanne and Ariane do plenty of chatting, but regular voiceovers keep explaining things. However, here the emphasis is on manipulation, though foolish choices, a Rohmer favorite, also feature. You can't claim either director's world is more real, but Garrel's feels harsher.

And yet this time not so much, because there is a happy ending, which happens almost by magic, through a chance meeting on the street.

Lover for a Day/L'amant d'un jour, 76 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2017's Directors Fortnight, where it won the SACD Prize ex aequo with Claire Denis for Let the Sun Shine In. It entered French theaters 31 May (AlloCiné press rating 3.5), also playing in at least eight festivals. Screened for this review at Alice Tully Hall 10 Oct. 2017 as part of the New York Film Festival. Acquired by MUBI for US release coming 19 Jan. 2018. Metascore 76%.

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