At age 70, Philippe Garrel is, along with Woody Allen, Hong Sang-soo, and perhaps Clint Eastwood, one of the few filmmakers in the world who does what many of his colleagues want: to shoot with almost no interruption. Garrel is also, along with his compatriots Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda and Allen himself, one of the filmmakers in activity with a filmography more extended in time. If we leave out his short film Les enfants desaccordés, which he filmed at the unusual age of 16 (this data goes directly to the Guinness), and we only count the feature films, we notice that the first one was shot in 1967, at the no less unusual age of 19 years old. He has just completed his first fifty years as a filmmaker, a task not so well-known outside his country. His thirty feature films, his work in complete development, constitute one of the most consistent and unmistakable blocks of contemporary cinema, as was seen a few days ago in the twentieth edition of Bafici, which programmed the most voluminous retrospective of his films seen so far in Argentina (fourteen films, between long, medium and short).
An artist determined to follow his own paths again and again, although these do not coincide at all with those of his contemporaries, Garrel – son of actor Maurice, father of actors Louis and Esther, brother of famous producer Thierry Garrel, specialized in documentaries and art cinema since the 70s- continues to shoot almost all of his black and white movies, just as in his early days. Garrel is the kind of filmmaker who behaves like a writer, and not exactly of best sellers, in the sense of telling only the stories that interest him. Like Hong Sang-soo, these stories often have to do with his personal life, and this has been so since in the 70s he filmed several films starring his wife at the time, none other than Nico, the mythical singer of Velvet Underground. After her suicide, there were several his films that dealt with the subject, as well as his films in which characters who are filmmakers or equivalent figures appear frequently. Garrel is, among other things, a survivor of the Paris of ’68 (he filmed Actua 1, which Godard considers the best documentary short on the May episodes, and more recently Regular Lovers, on those same episodes), as well as being a survivor of the times of sex, drugs and rock and roll, as much as Keith Richards, Pete Townsend or Brian Wilson can be. Although, luckily for him, his head is much more in place than the latter, who had a much worse time.
Always in black and white, his most recent film, Lover for a Day (part of the Bafici’s retro) is an authentic Garrel. In other words, a film about human relationships and especially love affairs, which takes place in Paris and stars middle-class characters, who oscillate between art, bohemia and intellectuality. In this case, Gilles, a professor of philosophy (Éric Caravaca), who has a relationship with his student Ariane (Louise Chevillotte) and welcomes his daughter Jeanne (Esther Garrel) into his home, who has just been kicked out by her boyfriend. And period. In terms of what is usually called plot, that is all, since Garrel is not interested in casting any network of events over the story that is not generated by the characters’ own logic. That is what he broaches in Lover for a Day, as in all his works: the relationships between the characters (changing, intense, essential).
The “changeable” thing is very clear in the very structure of the film (that there is almost no plot does not mean that there is no structure), where at the beginning one of the characters comforts another who is absolutely heartbroken (and who wants to commit suicide, like so many others in the author’s work), while in the end the situation is reversed mathematically. Although Garrel’s films, and this is no exception, have an improvisatory air – both because of the freedom with which the characters go through the story and because of the sensation that their actions and dialogues leave – since the early 90’s the filmmaker systematically co-writes them with a couple or more of collaborators. As in the previous A l’ombre des femmes, for Lover for a Day Garrel summoned perhaps the world’s most famous screenwriter, Jean-Claude Carrière, who knew how to work under Luis Buñuel, Roman Polanski and Nagisa Oshima.
In the author’s cinema, matters such as work, routine, the transition scenes themselves matter little. What matters are the loves, the pains, the passions, the jealousy, the dusts, even, as Lover for a Day exemplifies, which practically begins with a long scene of hurried sex in a bathroom, and later includes a scene that echoes it, with another male lead. Of course there is not the slightest intention of exploitation, sensationalism or excitement of the audience in sex according to Garrel. It is not about that but about incorporating sex as part of everyday life. What does exist in his cinema, from the beginning until today, is a parade of beautiful girls (and also sometimes of beautiful boys, considering that Louis Garrel appears in several), undoubtedly a tradition in French cinema. Garrel, one of the most heterosexual filmmakers in contemporary cinema (again together with Hong Sang-soo and, yes, Woody Allen, although without his dirty old man side), inherits this characteristic from his admired Godard, and also from Truffaut, whose works are among other things – in the case of Godard, during the 1960s; in Truffaut’s until his death – true songs to feminine beauty.
In Lover for a Day this surrender to the beautiful woman is evident by a simple matter of shot size: Garrel films Caravaca and his daughter Esther in medium shots, while he devotes a good amount of close-ups to the beautiful freckled Chevillotte, reminiscent above all of Vivre sa vie, not coincidentally one of his favorite movies. Another French tradition that Lover for a Day collects (but this transcends cinema and goes back to literature) is that of amour fou or crazy love, which abounds so little in the prudent, calculated, quasi-robotic contemporary love relationships (we refer to those of cinema or literature, no one will think that we have such a bad opinion of those of real life). Here, in the absence of a crazy love there are two, and both are in charge of women (all an opinion of the author in a matter of genres). They are the two protagonists: Jeanne, who bursts into the film with a distressing crisis because of her boyfriend, and Ariane, who seems much cooler and yet is equally hot.
Photographed by the legendary Renato Berta, who was in charge of lighting several films by Manoel de Oliveira – apart from Godard, Alain Resnais and the Swiss Claude Goretta and Alain Tanner, among many others – in Lover for a Day relationships y things (the characters are not very attached to them in Garrel’s cinema) are provisional and changeable. But not temporary. Quite the contrary, they leave a footprint in these creatures as intense as that of a branding.