Jealousy’s (2013) modesty belies its emotional and structural complexity. The new film from French auteur Philippe Garrel, it’s a short but substantial rumination on love and the life of the artist. It’s a deeply serious work that looks like a frolic, exposing the perennial compromises of la vie de bohème. A modern story with strong biographical lineage, it’s a film that harks back to both the director’s own life as well as the artistic aftermath of May 1968. Jealousy is the propeller and the repressor; a destabilising force with kinetic drive, inexorably pushing lives away from resolve. Garrel’s initial fly-on-the-wall act is a smokescreen; he’s the master puppeteer, guiding the events with a remarkable sense of purpose.
Garrel’s son Louis (The Dreamers) stars as an actor who has just left his wife Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant) for fellow artist Claudia (Anna Mouglalis, Gainsbourg). Louis’ latest play is not paying well and he’s struggling to get by, let alone pay maintenance for his warm-hearted, intelligent daughter Charlotte (the impressive Olga Milshtein). Despite brief flirtations elsewhere, Louis loves Claudia but she is happy to stray, seeing it as just another part of a healthy life. It’s a brilliant film, and testament to why the auteur model has always worked so well in French cinema. The naturalistic performances and muted dialogue convey a sense of breeziness. However, beneath the beat of everyday life, Garrel chips away at his intriguing central thesis, constantly evoking thematic parallels and structural motifs.
Legendary cinematographer Willy Kurant – director of photography on Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculine Feminine (1966) – is key in this respect. He creates intimacy through his framing, almost pulling the individuals together by keeping his shots close and tight. On the one hand, the closeness represents the shifting desires of the characters but it also stifles them. The close-quarters of Louis and Claudia’s garret apartment is oppressive; we instinctively will them to branch out. Two biographical footnotes are worth noting with respect to Jealousy. The first is the story of Garrel’s father, a man who left his wife for another woman, who in turn cheated on him. The second is the director’s involvement in the May ’68 movement (Godard even paid Garrel to shoot the tumultuous events happening on the streets at the time).
By setting Jealousy in contemporary Paris, the director not only gets to work through the specifics of his past by having new Garrels (Louis and his sister Esther) exorcise the sins of the old, he gets to recast his primary concerns stemming from the artistic aftermath of May ’68; notably the future of the penniless artist. Indeed, what good was a youth revolution if the cycles of poverty merely repeat for future generations? But Garrel suggests a potential shift in the next age group, Louis’ daughter is the voice of reason; she yearns for a real family after a lineage comprised of drifting artists and fickle lovers. Garrel is enough of a humanist to see it as just another new pull in his family history.