Philippe Garrel, Jealousy, 2013, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 77 minutes. Charlotte, Louis, and Claudia (Olivia Milshstein, Louis Garrel, and Anna Mouglalis).


SMACK IN THE MIDST of the usual summer glut of digital behemoths and bulging muscles, Philippe Garrel’s Jealousy—his latest, bittersweet semiautobiographical homage to the French New Wave—comes as a relief. With nary a special effect in sight, the film revels in ravishing black-and-white ’Scope, the stunning limpidity of which makes one wonder why it’s been used so infrequently since the heyday of Kurosawa and Imamura. Given the simplicity of the story and settings of Jealousy, the wide screen might seem a luxury, but the format is friendly to the film’s semi-improvisational style and allows the emotional distances between characters to echo throughout each frame. Even the uncluttered vistas of a park are overcast with a sense of melancholy.

Except for the presence of a cell phone in one scene, the film could easily be set in the mid-1960s, when Garrel had just begun his career and his declared mentors—Bresson, Godard, and Truffaut—were in vogue. There are even hints of Truffaut’s alter ego, Antoine Doinel, in the befuddled look of the main character Louis (played by Garrel’s son Louis) when he is ditched by his new girlfriend Claudia (a wonderfully brooding Anna Mouglalis). Yet the film seems less an act of nostalgia than a jaundiced reaction to the current state of cinema. Its physical look alone can be read as a critique of the visual banality of so many French imports over the past few decades.

As always, Garrel is preoccupied with the labile nature of romantic love. But he’s the flip side of Éric Rohmer, whose amorous chronicles, however unresolved, are more ebullient than doleful. Rohmer’s characters talk incessantly about their feelings, while Garrel’s rarely elaborate beyond flat, invariably controverted declarations. Garrel’s father Maurice cautions his son in Emergency Kisses (1989) that “cinema is not just pictures,” yet the dialogue in Jealousy reveals little about the whys and wherefores of character behavior. No one talks about what bothers them; they just act out, a dynamic that makes their wide-screen interaction all the more pitiable. As Marianne, one of love’s casualties in Garrel’s I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar (1991), sums it up, we were happy, and then we were not.

Louis and Claudia are both stage actors, an ironic commentary on the paucity of meaningful speech in their lives, in which things just unfold and then come to a halt. When Claudia, depressed over the impasse in her career, picks up random men, we know that another sudden, unexplained split is imminent. Yet when she walks out, Louis seems completely perplexed. How deeply he feels the loss is mitigated by those sardonic Doinel-like touches. If these characters seem incapable of thinking deeply and learning from what happens to them, it may be because Garrel believes that psychological probing is futile, or out of fashion, or just too hard.

But if romantic attachments are notoriously fragile in Garrel’s work, blood relations endure, apparently on and off the screen. In Emergency Kisses, Garrel, Sr. plays himself as devoted father to his five-year-old son, Louis. But as he told an interviewer, he is represented in Jealousy not by the adult Louis but by Charlotte, the fictional daughter of Louis and Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), whose breakup is the catalyst for the narrative. This child, played by Olga Milshtein, a spunky ingénue with indelible presence and charm to spare, is, like the young girl in Henry James’s What Maisie Knew, a pivotal figure who must navigate the fallout of her parents’ separation. Her role is established in the second shot, following one of Clothilde crying in the kitchen, her loneliness complemented by the expansive emptiness around her: Charlotte, hearing her mother pleading with Louis not to leave, gets up to peek into the other room. Like Maisie, Charlotte is instinctively inquisitive, although she belongs to a decidedly different class, and so is freer to sympathize with her mother while remaining devoted to her father and friendly with his new girlfriend.

In one scene, Louis and Charlotte snuggle and tussle so spontaneously that you would think, given the peculiar dynamics of this tribe, that they are actually father and daughter. But the truth is more affecting and ironic: The scene is a replay of one in Emergency Kisses in which director Philippe as a younger man wrestles lovingly with his real son, the same Louis whose playful reenactment with Charlotte feels like déjà vu, a ritual by which he gets to father his real father in the guise of this five-year-old surrogate.

In the final scene, recovered from a botched suicide attempt, Louis sits in the park with Charlotte and his sister Esther, two attachments presumably above the fray and miseries of male/female relationships. In the spirit of the cross-references and overlaps of Garrel’s work, we might recall that only at the last moment in Regular Lovers (2004) do we learn through a narrator that François (also played by Louis Garrel) has killed himself. But if the revelation comes as a shock, it is surely because the lonely interior of that character has been no more accessible to the viewer than it was to the woman he loved. The virtual inevitability of this tragic divide between lovers, in which neither can fully open to the other, may be the strongest and most heartbreaking theme of Garrel’s work.

Esther is played by the actor’s real sister, the director’s daughter, and so in the last scene of Jealousy, autobiographical tension persists. It would seem then, as one of the film’s intertitles suggests, that when most of our hopes and illusions collapse, we get to “keep the angels,” i.e., our children. However disillusioned its view of romance, Garrel’s new film manifests genuine love for these lost characters and for the wonderfully engaging people who impersonate them.

Tony Pipolo

Jealousy opens Friday, August 15 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, and Friday, August 22 at the Laemmle Royal Theater in Los Angeles. It will be available on iTunes beginning Tuesday, August 19, and on Amazon Instant, Vudu, and Google Play on Tuesday, August 26.