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VENICE, Italy – French filmmaker Philippe Garrel keeps things in the family in more ways than one for Jealousy (La Jalousie), another monochrome exploration of relationships and emotions à la française.
The director’s son and regular star, Louis (The Dreamers, Garrel’s Regular Lovers), not only heads up the cast but his character is directly modeled on Philippe Garrel’s late actor father, Maurice (who played Louis’s grandfather in Regular Lovers), who left Philippe’s mother to go and live with another actress. To complete the family portrait, Esther Garrel, Louis’ sister, pops up in a supporting role as Louis’s sibling and the director’s partner, Caroline Deruas, is one of the three authors that co-penned the screenplay with the director. It’s almost a miracle, then, that such an insider-y and talky French film, in black-and-white and about infidelity and the green-eyed monster, turns out to be nonetheless quite accessible.
After its Venice world premiere and subsequent Toronto bow, the film could see minor art house play in Francophile territories.
In a short prologue, young parents Louis (Louis Garrel) and Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant) are spied upon by their daughter, Charlotte (Olga Milshtein, playing the character that in real life was Philippe himself), through a keyhole. The little girl happens to witness the separation of her parents, clearly against Clothilde’s will.
In the film’s first of two parts, somewhat enigmatically titled I Looked After Angels, it emerges that Louis is a poor actor and his new girlfriend, Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), used to be an actress too, though she’s considering taking up another job since they struggle to come up with the rent for their tiny living quarters (“I can handle being broke but not being poor,” says Claudia in a phrase that suggests how flowery the dialogue occasionally becomes).
After a while, Charlotte is introduced to Daddy’s new woman and the two immediately get on like a house on fire, even if Claudia turns out to be quite the volatile drama queen when she’s alone with Louis. This being Paris and in black-and-white, both Claudia and Louis see other people, though especially Louis seems to be conflicted about it.
Never a full-on character piece or even an exploration of the titular sentiment, Jealousy instead offers moments of quiet tragedy in some seemingly innocent throwaway moments, such as when Charlotte, after an ebullient outing with Claudia and Louis, tells her mother, clearly still not fully recovered from the involuntary split with Louis, that Claudia’s “absolutely awesome.” In the hands of Garrel, clearly drawing on his own experience but with the benefit of hindsight, these moments have the painful ring of truth.
In the film’s second half, which kicks off some 40 minutes in and is called Sparks in a Powder Keg (the subtitles erroneously read “Powder Bag”), the relationship of Claudia and Louis also becomes strained, especially after Claudia suggests the pair move into a bigger apartment that she got as a gift from another man — a thought that drives the jealous Louis to do something very drastic involving a gun and his bare hipster chest (apart from his acting debut for Garrel senior, when Louis was only nine, this film continues the rather worrying trend of having each of Louis’s characters in his father’s films try to commit suicide — chew on that, Freud).
Though more a quasi-impressionistic collection of scenes from the life of Louis and Claudia and, to a lesser extent, Charlotte and Clothilde, than a straightforward dramatic arc that goes from A through Z, editor Yann Dedet (who’s worked with Garrel before but also with such greats as François Truffaut and Maurice Pialat, both clear influences here) shapes the film into a quite coherent emotional whole. The quiet last few scenes appropriately suggest that lovers might come and go but family, as the saying goes, is forever.
Acting is low-key but believable throughout, with Mouglalis finally shedding her supermodel looks to show the contradictory and flawed but very human character underneath. Though the story’s set in the present, regular collaborators Manu de Chauvigny (production design) and Willy Kurant (cinematography) give the film a lovely retro vibe, while the melancholy score by Jean-Louis Aubert ably supports the proceedings.
Venue: Venice Film Festival (Competition)
Production companies: SBS Productions
Cast: Louis Garrel, Anna Mouglalis, Rebecca Convenant, Olga Milshtein, Esther Garrel
Director: Philippe Garrel
Screenwriters: Philippe Garrel, Caroline Deruas, Arlette Langmann, Mark Cholodenko
Producer: Said Ben Said
Director of photography: Willy Kurant
Production designer: Manu de Chauvigny
Music: Jean-Louis Aubert
Costume designer: Justine Pearce
Editor: Yann Dedet
Sales: Wild Bunch
No rating, 76 minutes.
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