An acquired taste of a filmmaker, French auteur Philippe Garrel has pursued a personal path that feeds substantially on his own personal history, intertwined with the history of French popular culture in the shadow of the "cultural exception", the Nouvelle Vague and May 1968. The approach, starting out with a series of mostly experimental post-1968 films and moving into highly stylized, loosely autobiographical films, has very much limited Mr. Garrel's exposure beyond an art-house niche, his work too often falling within the framework of a quintessentially "French mode" of auteur cinema, regularly returning to the somewhat staid romance of tiny attic apartments in stylishly darkened Parisian streets.
Jealousy will not "break him out" of that niche - it's very clear by now the critically acclaimed director does not want or need to "break out" - but is a lighter, more accessible piece than usual, with a stronger narrative sustaining the beautifully rendered black and white cinematography by Willy Kurant and Jean-Louis Aubert's spacily delicate guitar textures on the soundtrack. Set in a timeless Paris that could either be the 1980s or the 2010s, Jealousy is loosely inspired by the infidelities of Mr. Garrel's late father, actor Maurice Garrel, whose "alter-ego" is here played by the director's son Louis (whose sister is played by his real-life sister Esther).
Mr. Garrel junior is Louis, a dashing young actor who seems to be a serial seducer and has abandoned Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), the mother of his young daughter, for the sultry, forceful and insecure Claudia (Anna Mouglalis). Both the actor and Ms. Mouglalis are perfectly cast in this diaphanous tale of love as seen through the stolen moments of a relationship, charmingly soundtracked by Mr. Aubert's ringing guitar tones, with Louis ending up tasting of his own poison. The thin line between fiction and reality, both in the references to the director's own family past and within the tale itself (as both Louis and Claudia are jobbing actors), is particularly well explored by Mr. Garrel, as at some point Louis' acting teacher says that "you may understand better the characters you play than the people around you" - perhaps the director is speaking to himself, since so much of his work seems to have precisely this cathartic, searching quality.
But that naked exposure can sometimes feel a bit too overpowering - in Regular Lovers, for instance, the three-hour running time seemed clearly to beg the question "yes, we got it, thanks very much, can we now move on?". Jealousy, on the contrary, ends long before overstaying its welcome, becoming in the process an exquisitely handcrafted, if admittedly somewhat slight, miniature about love and trust, its fragile minor key being exactly right for its melancholy feel.
Cast Louis Garrel, Anna Mouglalis, Rebecca Convenant, Olga Milshtein, Esther Garrel, Arthur Igual, Jérôme Huguet, Manon Kneusé, Éric Reillat, Robert Bazil, Jean Pommier, Julien Lucas, Sofia Teillet, Florence Payros, Nicolas Thuet, Mathilde Bisson, Emmanuela Ponzano
Director Philippe Garrel; screenwriters Mr. Garrel, Caroline Deruas, Arlette Langmann and Marc Cholodenko; cinematographer Willy Kurant (black & white, widescreen); composer Jean-Louis Aubert; designer Manu de Chauvigny; costumes Justine Pearce; editor Yann Dedet; producer Saïd ben Saïd; production companies SBS Productions in co-production with Le Fresnoy Studio National des Arts Contemporains, in association with Soficinéma 9, Indéfilms and Wild Bunch
Screened July 28th 2014, Lisbon (DVD screener)