Philippe Garrel’s latest film Lover For A Day stars his daughter as the child of infidelity.
If an American equivalent exists for the French Garrel family, it’s probably the Coppolas, who’s patriarch, legendary director Francis Ford, now presides over two generations of notable filmmakers (his daughter Sofia just released The Beguiled) and whose family tree includes actors as diverse as Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage. The Garrels have a similar imprint on the French film scene, albeit a far more active one.
The son of renowned French actor Maurice – who appeared in over 100 features between 1960 and his death in 2011 – director Philippe is an important member of the French New Wave, who continues to make works into his late career (he is going on seventy). His recent work often stars his children, Esther and Louis, who are so active in the current cinema that it was difficult for me to establish which premieres of I’ve seen just this year bear their family name.
Louis Garrel stupendously played his father’s associate, Jean-Luc Goddard, in Michel Hazanavicius’ vicious industry biopic, Le Redoubtable, and also had a small role as a secret agent in the film-within-a-film of Ismael’s Ghosts. Both films premiered at Cannes this year, where Louis’ father was showcasing his newest work, L’Amant d’un jour (Lover for a Day) at Director’s Fortnight. The latter two films now premiering at New York Film Festival, it seems that there’s something of a family reunion in the works, especially since Lover for a Day holds Esther Garrel at its emotional epicenter.
The Garrels have a similar imprint on the French film scene as the Coppolas have on Hollywood, albeit a far more active one.
The film comes off as a very strange love triangle, although not all kinds of love are equal here. Shot in black-and-white, the course of the narrative occupies the months in which Jeanne (Esther) shares a home with her father Gilles (Éric Caravaca) and his girlfriend Ariane (Louise Chevillotte), a former student of Gilles who’s about Jeanne’s age. Having just been kicked out by her long-term boyfriend, Jeanne winds up on her father’s doorstep in Paris, and spends most of her emotional recovery there acting as a neutral third party between the betrayal and secrets of Gilles’ midlife fling. In typical French fashion, all parties get along pretty well, don’t begrudge a little lovemaking, and attempt to normalize their peculiar situation to the point where the typical fallbacks of the heart are overcome. It doesn’t work out well.
Garrel’s new film is a meditation of the rules of love, and the promises we make ourselves to try and force logic upon it.
Garrel’s new film, therefore, is a meditation of the rules of love, and the promises we make ourselves to try and force logic upon it. A philosophy professor, Gilles’ house is one of calm intellectualism, and when he and Ariane agree to remain together despite infidelities on either end, it has an air of cool consideration. But watching these infidelities play out, as Jeanne does – only to enact reprisal and an ultimate return to her boyfriend – one feels that the point Philippe is trying to make is that love is something you can’t outsmart or outmaneuver. It is instead the basest cravings and instincts of our most fragile selves; Gilles is affected by this id as much as his flighty daughter, and it is her and not him who eventually learns to walk on their own two feet.
Garrel is no stranger to playing these charades of intimacy. Now married to Caroline Deruas, his progeny are the product of his second relationship, with French actress and filmmaker Brigitte Sy, and before that he was in a ten-year relationship with German icon Nico (of Velvet Underground acclaim). While this kind of romantic tumult is somewhat typical of the film industry, it’s not often directors would include their children in their humbling, inviting the family to all make light of it together. In this way, Garrel seems to have reached the point of acceptance he implies for his daughter’s character, Jeanne, at the end of Lover for a Day. What can you do when become fate’s fool, the object of someone else’s desire, and then derision? Laughing about it helps.