La Mystere Garrel

I can't make up my mind about Phillipe Garrel. Les Amants Reguliers was my favorite unreleased film from the 2005 New York Film Festival, a giddy re-enactment of Mai '68 as remembered through a haze of dope smoke and burning automobiles. His Prix Jean Vigo-winning film L'Enfant Secret will be playing at the Museum of Modern Art (see link on the right) on February 10 and 13, and after seeing it Thursday, I find myself as conflicted as ever.

L'Enfant is another Garrelian tale of amour fou and, as seems his wont, it's a mad love experienced at a remove. My friend and colleague Daryl Chin pointed out to me that this is a thinly disguised recounting of Garrel's putative affair with the chanteuse-model-heroin icon Nico, yet for all the personal passion on display, the film has a strangely detached quality. There are intimations throughout that we are seeing a film-within-a-film version of events, although Garrel is careful to make this unclear. The result feels a bit like a Duras film turned inside-out, with the heart of the film taken up with the paradox of being simultaneously within and outside of the fiction, with a concommitant tension between melodramatic gesture and a rigorous lack of affect. Where Duras creates that tension through hall-of-mirror formal devices, Garrel choses a studious underplaying by his principals. The result is at once both enervating and compelling.
The film's grimy, grainy black-and-white adds to the sense of a strangely detached realism, and a scratchy print heightens that effect. Must be the only time I've ever seen a narrative film in which the iffy print quality seemed to be a deliberate act of design. Come to think of it, Les Amants Reguliers looked pretty raggedy-assed also. Can you imagine a Garrel remake of Saving Private Ryan?