30 DAYS OF FANDOR, DAY 30: LA JALOUSIE (2013)

Jealousy la jalousie philippe garrel

 Day 30: LA JALOUSIE (JEALOUSY) (Philippe Garrel, France, 2013)

There’s a density to the images of a Philippe Garrel film that I’m increasingly convinced are exceptional to the medium; rarely fussy or even overtly composed, typically it’s just actors talking and interacting in a series of underfurnished interior rooms connected by transitory public spaces like streets and parks. And yet, somehow, each moment seems imbued with a kind of mythic aura I tend to associate more with Greek tragedy than the cinema. La jalousie replays a story of triangulated romantic complications of the type Garrel explores in many of his films, with the autobiographical overtones taking on additional layers of meaning with the casting of his son, Louis, as his stand-in (his daughter, Esther, has a major role as Louis’s character’s brother—so many layers of familial implication braided into this film!).

The magnificent Anna Mouglalis, who I think has definitely confirmed her place as my favorite contemporary French actress (sorry Isabelle and Juliette), is the world-weary actress Louis leaves his wife for in the film’s opening sequence, and just as one assumes they know what kind of “jealously” the title refers to yet another subtle variation surfaces, and by the end it’s clear a whole typography of jealous impulses—romantic, familial, professional, etc—have been delicately excavated and examined. And none of this conveys that immense beauty of the images themselves, the work of Willy Kurant (who lensed for Varda, Godard, Robbe-Grillet, Marker, Gainsbourg and others in the sixties and seventies). The oversaturated black and white suspends 2010’s Paris in a space beyond the trappings of any specific year (it feels like 1963 just as much as 2013). In the most condensed of running times—this one clocks in at a characteristically succinct 77 minutes—Garrel is able to articulate and convey more than most films twice as long.

[Watch La jalousie on Fandor here.]

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thoughts on 2008

My Ten Favorite Films of 2008:

01) Chansons d’amour (Love Songs) / Dans Paris
02) Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
03) Une vielle maîtresse (The Last Mistress)
04) Le Voyage du ballon rouge (Voyage of the Red Balloon)
05) Les amour d’Astrée et Céledon (The Romance of Astree and Celedon)
06) Ne touchez pas la hache (The Duchess of Langeais)
07) Were the World Mine
08) Twilight
09) Savage Grace
10) Guest of Cindy Sherman

I suppose it kind of goes without saying—if distribution dates somehow continue to be the main criterion of composing a list like this, well, I offer up this one as a particularly absurd mess.  Look no further than the two films that crown the top of the list: by most accounts, Dans Paris should be a 2006 film; Chansons d’amour, on the other hand, would legitimately count as a 2008 release.  The problem with such clear-cut analysis: I first got to see Dans Paris, which never appeared theatrically in San Diego, upon its DVD release in the middle of 2008.  Chansons d’amour, on the other hand, I saw late in 2007 at TIFF and if I had composed a list in 2007, it list would have been given pride of place on the top of that one. And on and on we go, rather ridiculously—how long exactly are we planning on carrying on this exercise in futility?  Perhaps if it wasn’t taken so seriously it wouldn’t seem so absurd, and I guess it’s that spirit I bother offering up this list at all.

Looking at this list, compiled after several revisions, I had to admit it startles even me.  Twilight gracing the same list with several legitimate Art-with-a-capital-A (in the best possible sense) type of films?  Something as innocuous and disposable as Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist?  That icky incest film with Julianne Moore that everyone hated?  Really?

So it seems.  It seems that my film viewings habits and general cinematic sensibility is turning into something downright schizophrenic—objectively this looks like a laughable mash-up of the lists of an overly pretentious artfag and a 15 year old girl.  But in reality it might just be that I’m simply becoming more capricious in my cinematic discrimination (example: what do The Dark Knight, Frozen River, Clint Eastwood and most the films currently playing at the San Diego Landmark theaters all have in common?  I couldn’t be more disinterested if I tried!).

I don’t know, is that a legitimate means to dissect this list?  To delve into my two warring personas—the glutton for Art and this more juvenile desire to make a kind of intense emotional connection with what I’m watching?  I guess a good way to view this list is that these are the ten new(ish) films I developed the biggest, most lasting crushes on in 2008—the ones that would bubble up unexpectedly into my consciousness, catching me off-guard and kind of compelling me to love them in ways that I can’t exactly explain in a rational way. Perhaps it’s that lack of affection that’s at the root of why Milk, which inspired more thought and pondering than a good number of films on this list, ultimately failed to make the final cut.  It might also help explain—at least to me—why there are also films that ended up on this list that initially I didn’t much care for.  It was simply that they kept revealing unexplored facets in the weeks, sometimes months after watching them.

Cinematic crushes.  That also helps get to a growing preoccupation with what I’ve come to call “the little things around the edges,” the often rather inconsequential details or moments in films that I rarely see recognized in the film criticism I read but I find resonate and stick with me a lot longer than the things I’m told are worth focusing on.  Christophe Honoré, in his giddy, almost foolhardy abandon and cinematic experimentation, is already a master at this—both Chansons d’amour and Dans Paris are cinematic miracles composed of moments and emotions that at first seem haphazardly strung together but later reveal themselves to possess the same kind of oddly beautiful randomness of daily life.  Despite the stunning extremes from which Chansons d’amour begins and ends, it’s the film on this list that most seems to mimic the beautiful/horrible/bizarre random trajectory of daily living and the sense that every moment possesses the potential to cobweb in countless unthinkable directions; if Dans Paris is more traditionally plotted, it is simply bursting with vivid moments of emotional truth (the endless love/hate push-and-pull between parents and their grown offspring) and the inevitable human reaction to latch onto objects to create an identity (silly songs, cherished childhood books, store window displays).

La voyage du balloon rouge and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, in radically different ways, also share many of Honoré’s preoccupations.  Most commentary of Hou’s film have focused on its dazzling aesthetics (which are admittedly impressive), but the real lightbulb moment for me was when my friend Ali(son Smith) wrote some thoughts about how the way Binoche’s character lives “encapsulates Paris” and among many things the film turns out to be a really poignant portrait of urban living (characterized by, to quote Ali again, “much living in little space”).  It’s up there with Chansons d’amour in the way something resembling real life emerges from carefully collected individual moments.  Nick and Norah, on the other hand, is much less successful, inevitably succumbing (given its origins) to a more cookie-cutter, consumer-minded approach—and to be brutally honest, it has some truly awful sequences (that whole exchange in the studio room) and the central courtship is certainly sweet but also a bit bland.  Rather, its the secondary characters that bring the film vividly to life: Ari Graynor pulls off this astounding comedic turn that comes out of nowhere (my favorite performance of the year) and Nathan Lee can have I Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, as I emphatically agree with Lisa Schwarzbaum that in a quietly revolutionary way the film shows, in a way I’ve never really seen before, how for people under a certain age gay and straight lives and romances and friendships parallel and intersect each other, and, more importantly, that’s simply the way it is.  I have a feeling that this film could very well have chipped away at “the otherness” of homosexuality in the minds of its unsuspecting audience in a way many were hoping Milk, in its more bombastic manner, would and probably couldn’t.

Keeping with the young love, Were the World Mine and Twilight, the former a unruly labor-of-love type of film that only manages to hold itself together through the love and sweat and unbridled passion and conviction of those involved; the latter is a polished, meticulously calculated tween juggernaut.  Were the World Mine is kind of unapologetically a “root for the underdog” Billy Elliot yarn with an honest-to-god gay boy at the center this time around; Twilight’s chaste romanticism is kind of unintentionally ruptured by the homoerotic undertones associated with the vampire tradition, and a big part of my odd fascination with it is how little would have to be changed to  turn this into a gay coming-of-age story (it also helps that male beauty hasn’t been so shamelessly objectified since Casino Royale).

Operating (unsurprisingly) on a completely different plane is Catherine Breillet and Une vieille maîtresse, where the violent sexual potency of young love is placed front and center, a startling but necessary flipside of the coin to platonic puppy-love films like Nick & Norah, Were the World Mine and Twilight.  This is also a quality which also separates Breillet’s film from the two other vivid French literary adaptations on the list: Ne touchez pas le hache and Les amours d’Astrée et de Céladon.  Both are supremely accomplished films by master filmmakers nearing the end of their careers; both also center around the travails of romantic coupling, but where Rivette slyly dissects social conventions through what initially seems a rigid, qualité française theatricality, Rohmer swings to the opposite end of the spectrum, not parodying its idyllic pre-modern pastoral setting but unironically serving up romantic hijinks until it culminates in a buoyant, giddy crescendo that only Honoré’s films are able to match.

Guest of Cindy Sherman serves as representative of my experience helping program the San Diego Film Festival, one of the bright spots in a unbelievable amount of shit I had to sift through and endure during that process.  It didn’t even end up playing at the festival, and I have no idea if it’ll surface again (though, happily, IMDb is showing a limited release slated for the end of March) but this funny/sad doc will probably be positioned as an insider look at a notoriously reclusive artist even though it’s no PBS “meet the artist” affair—it’s really the inadvertently captured portrayal of the creation and collapse of a romantic relationship.

And finally, Savage Grace, perched at the end of this kind of ridiculous summation like a pariah—an odd, unloved and unlovable film that I won’t even try to pretend I “got.”  It’s here because it haunted me—not the uncomfortable sex stuff, really, but its dislocation, the way it kind of throws both its characters and audience into these unmoored spaces, forcing all of us to grope through this hopeless labyrinth together when we all seem pretty aware that there’s no way out.  It’s the kind of film where answers are demanded, and, rather perversely, none ever come.

A few honorable mentions are in order, because it pained me to leave out My Bluberry Nights, Jump! and Lullaby Before I Wake, all films I also developed considerable crushes on; also the films I “merely” admired for various reasons: Milk, Paranoid Park, Stellet licht, The Rape of Europa and Anita O’Day: Life of a Jazz Singer.

And for fun, a few other misc. 2008 goodies:

My Ten Favorite Non-2008 First Viewings:
01) La pointe courte (1954)
02) Vampyr (1932)
03) Innocence (2007)
04) Garden of Earthly Delights (2004)
05) Who’s Camus Anyway? (2005)
06) Lady Chatterly (2007)
07) Les enfants terribles (1950
08) The Last Holiday (2006)
09) Salome (1923)
10) Syndromes and a Century (2007)

My Ten Favorite Performances from 2008:

01) Ari Graynor, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
02) Asia Argento, Une vieille maîtresse
03) Juliette Binoche, Voyage du balloon rouge
04) Kristen Stewart, Twilight
05) Emile Hirsch, Milk
06) Clotilde Hesme, Chansons d’amour
07) David Strathairn, My Blueberry Nights
08) Chiara Mastroianni, Chansons d’amour
09) James Franco, Milk
10) Rachel Weisz, My Blueberry Nights

Ten Most Swoon-worthy Boys (for Chance):

01) Robert Pattinson, Twilight
02) Jonathan B. Wright, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Louis Garrel, Chansons d’amour and Dans Paris
Eddie Redmayne, Savage Grace
Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Chansons d’amour
Nathaniel David Becker, Were the World Mine
Fu’ad Ait Attou, Un vieille maîtresse
James Franco, Milk
Daniel Craig, Quantum of Solace
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire

parisian escapades

Dans Paris (France, 2006), Christophe Honoré’s loose, Nouvelle Vague-inspired riff on J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey was my most anticipated film of 2007—and the powers that be sure made me wait long enough to finally see it (an almost nonexistent theatrical release, then a delayed DVD release, etc, etc).  Happily, it didn’t disappoint despite my ceaselessly growing anticipation; indeed, far from it: in many ways it’s much more than I dared let myself hope for.

Split into two very distinct but intertwined storylines embodied by two brothers, we have Roman Duris as a transformed “Franny,” heart-sick and pitifully bundled up in his private, somewhat silly miseries, and Louis Garrel as “Zooey,” irresistibly, almost obnoxiously gregarious, prone to spouting ill-timed but well-meaning insight and advice.  Like in Salinger’s story, intricate family dynamics drive the film, as does the interplay within the cramped familial apartment, a much lived-in space perpetually echoing with memories and the ghosts of the past that hover in forgotten corners.  Perhaps it was because I was just starting Bachelard’s seminal The Poetics of Space when I watched this film that I was particularly attuned to the matter, but I can’t think of another film that comes near to Honoré’s precise depiction of how people act and interact within their most intimate spaces—particularly their homes—unashamedly lounging about in various states of undress, blissfully unaware of how any “objective analysis” would quickly reveal the ridiculousness of the little soap operas that unfold behind closed doors and drawn curtains.  It’s rather miraculous to behold, in a low-key way.

But Honoré never allows the proceedings to get too insular—something which could be considered both the strength and the weakness of Salinger’s novella—using Garrel’s youthful antics (cue Demy) out and about in Paris (cue Band of Outsiders) to counterbalance the dark pathos of Duris’s emotional breakdown.  A lovely film which seems so slight and ephemeral at first glance but which I have a haunch might be an impressive, perhaps even  a legitimately important achievement.