Film Reviews

Jealousy Philippe Garrel

Rating - 8/10

The prelude to Philippe Garrel's two-part familial film-play Jealousy [La Jalousie] is a quickly fading close-up of a woman weeping at a window, which sets the tone for the thoughtful seventy-minute duration.  With unusual intimacy, Garrel focuses on the strained relations between various modern Parisian couples through a series of short scenes that progress linearly on an indistinct timeline.  Louis, played by the director's own son Louis Garrel, is introduced through a keyhole from the perspective of his eight-year-old daughter Charlotte (Olga Milshtein) as he effectively ends a relationship with her mother Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant).  For much of the remainder, Louis is in the company of fellow actress Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), who hasn't been cast in a role in six years.  Lacking a nourishing emotional space, feelings of dejection and jealousy begin to taint their relationship.  As she comes to associate Louis and the dim claustrophobia that characterizes his home with her lack of success, she seeks to free herself from any commitment.  The stark black-and-white photography may not be an obvious choice for the film, but it sharply illuminates the comely figures, and, by association, their contention, as the lens keeps the background in a sensitive soft focus.  But while the affairs dominate screen time, it's the loving, memorable moments between father and daughter that reassure Jealousy, best attributed to the buoyant performance of Milshtein, who essentially serves as an in-film narrator, pluckily interjecting at any moment her father's attention wanes upon her.  Charlotte's comically sophisticated understanding of adult relationships embraces a surreal dimension, adding a certain heightened allure to the tempered, earthly moments between couples punctuated by literary allusions.

With ominous nods to the poet-playwright Mayakovsky, stoic first-century Roman philosopher Seneca The Younger, and the partial autobiography Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Jealousy often assumes their amalgamated aesthetics, with particular regard to the latter considering the character of Louis is based upon Philippe Garrel's own father, actor Maurice Garrel.  Additionally casting his daughter Esther as Louis' younger sister, Philippe Garrel's film emulates the close-knit familial relationships in its vignette-style format, because they literally exist outside the production itself.  Despite Claudia's penchant for confrontation and Louis' impulse to flirt with women on-and-off the set, the film is actually pleasing to watch, because it does not favor hammy dramatizing over subtle expression.  Ultimately, through its glimpsing of lives, this unique take on memory comes to resemble "life as remembered from the afterlife," as writer Ignatiy Vishnevetsky puts it.  The feeling, again, is consistently brought to attention by Charlotte, in the shadow of her separated parents, as a stand-in for Philippe Garrel himself, especially if he is relying upon the act of adapting memories of his father from a similar age of eight in the mid-1950s.  And yet even more layers to the film reveal themselves as the second part, "Sparks in a Powder Keg," ignites; Claudia's new-found confidence diffuses Louis' sense of control.  During a heated argument in Claudia's sunlit flat bestowed by her new fashionable architect employer Henri, it's Louis who flies into an envious fit about Henri's affection for her and what she has possibility done to warrant such a gift.  Following a comment about "everyone putting on an act," the film turns to self-reference and life imitating art, as the the two characters, in fact, possess backgrounds in the theatre.

In a manner that Matías Piñeiro's similarly concise Viola (2012) introduces Shakespeare to explore larger constructs of identity in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jealousy utilizes the mirroring of art and life to great effect.  It's not as pronounced as in Piñeiro's dreamlike theatrical experiment or something equally postmodern that entangles the arts of theatre and cinema like You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet (2012) by Alain Resnais, but in the closing act, director Garrel compellingly pits the principal character against himself where his theatrical role infiltrates his interactions with Claudia.  Louis' affectations also seep into Claudia's demeanor as the host of a dinner party.  Afterwards, as she hastily packs her belongings to leave, he pleads to her, "If you knew this, why put on an act all night?"  Considering Louis' flings in the preceding scenes, the question seems ironic; he asserts his romantic devotion to Claudia, but his behavior suggests that he's perpetually looking for an invigorating escape- another part to play in a relationship as one would try on a new role.  The film doesn't delve into these psychological inquiries too deeply, but it does run with a tried-and-true Shakespearean theme of personae/masks as tension rises between Claudia and Louis.  With a title like Jealousy that conjures malevolence, it surprisingly runs the gamut of feelings from tender introspection, to giddiness, to despair in short cyclical scenes that feel less abstract than they literally are.  Towards the conclusion, an elderly professor friend (Jean Pommier) asserts that Louis understands fictional characters better than people closest to him.  It's a clever joke but more significantly one that reflects upon the grand idea of the performance and romantic self-deception.  Throughout the film, despite a rather upbeat demeanor, Louis simply appears to be trying to enliven himself through the promise of a love affair, blind to the fact that he needn't look to create interpersonal drama when his daughter asks for his warm embrace, which likely has roots in Philippe Garrel's own sentiment about his dad.