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CANNES -- If the cinema clock could be turned back to 1968 and the heyday of the French nouvelle vague, "The Frontier of Dawn," which screened here In Competition, might make sense as a modern film that dares to break a few rules.

But today this love story about a young photographer torn between two women feels irritatingly empty, little more than an excuse for William Lubtchansky's fetchingly retro, black-and-white photography. Director Philippe Garrel and actor-son Louis are back at work together after winning a Silver Lion at Venice for "Les amants reguliers" in 2005, but this effort is way too contrived to remain interesting after the first half-hour or so.

Boy meets girl through the camera lens when photographer Francois (Louis Garrel) arrives to do a shoot with alluring actress Carole (Laura Smet). Her new husband has left her for Hollywood and in her loneliness she takes comfort in drink and in Francois' arms. Their trysts confine the sets to Francois' garret, Carole's huge half-empty apartment and a hotel room bed. To remind us there is a big world out there, the politically radical Carole proclaims the need for a "bloodless revolution" (come again?) and the Jewish Francois meets a rabid anti-Semite in a cafe.

In this coyly timeless world, despite modern cars and a 2007 date on a cemetery gravestone, characters prefer writing one another letters to using cell phones or e-mail. Philippe Garrel's determination to quote '60s cinema is pleasant enough for a while, mirrored in the superb lensing, fade-outs and other quaint technical devices. It begins to get on the nerves when Carole winds up in a nightmare clinic right out of a Sam Fuller movie, straitjacketed and electro-shocked.

In the end, though, the story would have been better off ending here as the study of an unhappy, claustrophobic relationship. Instead it plows on through Francois' second love affair with Eve (Clementine Poidatz), a fragile gamine who quickly gets pregnant. Not only does this round lack the morbid chemistry of his story with Carole, but it is obvious that the scriptwriters will never let Francois get away with conventional "bourgeois" happiness, and here too the film feels out of step with the times. When he begins seeing apparitions in a mirror, the film crosses the line into the absurd.

Cast: Louis Garrel, Laura Smet, Clementine Poidatz, Olivier Massart; Director: Philippe Garrel; Screenwriters: Philippe Garrel, Marc Cholodenko, Arlette Langmann; Producers: Edouard Weil, Conchita Airoldi.
Sales: Films Distribution, Paris.
No MPAA rating, 108 minutes.

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