The Regular Lovers (2005, Philippe Garrel)

August is 2005 Month! Katy’s not participating in this one because she thinks it’s stupid, so I watched The Regular Lovers by myself. The idea is that I miss lots of really good top-ten-list movies each year, and after three years have gone by, they’re mostly out on video so it’s time to catch up. So sometime next year I’ll have 2006 Month, and so on.

“Have you seen Before the Revolution? You know, by… (stares into camera) BERTOLUCCI?”

Yes, it’s an answer film to B.B.’s The Dreamers from a couple years earlier, which starred Garrel’s son Louis (also of Ma mère and the recent Love Songs). In the Cinema Scope interview, Philippe doesn’t seem angry or bitter over B.B.’s film, nor does he say that Bertolucci told the story wrong and that his is the real story of May ’68. He diplomatically says that there are many stories, and this film is another of them. Philippe also, modestly, doesn’t even take full credit for the final film, calling it a collaboration between himself, Rivette cinematographer William Lubtchansky, and Godard (’64-’67) editor Francoise Collin – “it depended very much on who was most awake at a given morning.” So maybe this isn’t a Bertolucci attack, the historical correction to a previous film that The Lives of Others set out to be.

So did I like it? Not so much. The high-contract black-and-black-and-white cinematography was arresting, and Garrel lives in his scenes and characters for a long time, stretching out moments and silences, which I like, but the movie didn’t grab me. I don’t feel much kinship to the May ’68 obsessives out there. I can sympathize, but I’m worlds away from understanding the feeling, what the kids of Paris thought they were doing and what actually went on. The mood I get from this film and Grin Without a Cat and even The Dreamers is the same kind of thing from the end of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, the end-of-the-dream “breaking the wave” speech, only angrier.

Lead characters are named Francois and Antoine – couldn’t be in reference to Truffaut & Doinel, could it? Reviewers insist this movie is a French New Wave homage, but it doesn’t feel like anything actually released in the early 60′s. A doomed, doomed feeling pervades, especially in the second half. The first half I was having trouble telling all the young male characters apart, but that’s okay because there wasn’t much Story, only Revolution – the fighting in the streets eaten up by the total blackness on the edge of the frame, the blackness finally taking over in the occasional iris-out (another cool camera trick: twice you see flashes as they shot to the very end of a film reel). The second half is a doomed, doomed love story, with Francois finally left behind by his sculptor girl (Clotilde Hesme, also in Love Songs) and killing himself with pills, his dead body discovered by cops in the final shot, cops he’s spent the rest of the movie running from (when he wasn’t smoking opium at home with his buddies).

Other differences from the Bertolucci film: no sex onscreen (nothing more than kissing), no talk of cinema (other than the mention of B.B. himself). The stylistic bits (the photography, iris tricks and intertitles, bursts of piano music, a loud dance scene) don’t seem to be trying to make the movie stand out, make it self-consciously weird or interesting, which is good because today (the year of The Wackness) it takes much more to make a movie seem weird. Rather these quirks seem to fit in quite naturally. It’s getting strong comparisons to The Devil, Probably, another film I didn’t much understand. Part of this is my fault – I didn’t pay as much attention as I could’ve during the first half, and I watched it on DVD where it’s clearly a Theatrical Experience movie. Maybe I’ll try again sometime, or just skip back to another Garrel movie.

Character notes I took: “blonde girl Charlene is marrying Yvan… Luc is blonde guy… rich Jean wants black hair girl to pose… Antoine also rich.” IMDB doesn’t list character names, but I’m not dying to know where else I can see each particular ennui-filled young Frenchman so that’s okay.

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