by James Hansen
Although he has been an important filmmaker in Europe for quite a long time, American audiences are still becoming acquainted with French director Philippe Garrel. And, if you do not live in New York or Los Angeles, it is highly likely that you missed his two most widely distributed features: Regular Lovers (2005) and J'entends plus la guitare (1991, yet distributed for the first time in the US in 2008) which may have been the most devastating film I saw last year. With his latest feature Frontier of Dawn opening in New York this week (expect a review sometime next week), it seems like an appropriate time for everyone to catch up on as much Garrel as possible. Unfortunately, there are still not very many features to choose from (unless you have a region free player). However, that is not to infer that Regular Lovers is not an absolutely extraordinary feature that has already become essential viewing – not only for its thorough and absorbing account of the May 1968 student riots, but also for being, as far as I can tell and from all I have heard, pure Garrel.
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Regular Lovers lingers through its 178 minutes running time – quite a task for some – yet manages moments of crushing clarity and powerful beauty. William Lubtchansky’s luscious cinematography, shot in the highest contrast black-and-white you may ever see, provides a perfect counterpoint to the dreamily troubled ideologies of love and revolution pondered throughout the film’s titular lovers Francois (Louis Garrel) and Lilie (Clotilde Hesme). Although it may have been fixed on the DVD, I recall seeing the film in theaters and the subtitles often disappearing into the bright whites of the landscape. But somehow, rather than become frustrated, every element of the film and its scenario (collaborated on by Garrel, Arlette Langmann, and Marc Cholodenko) continued to flow and slowly reveal itself even without the language spelled out. That is a truly rare cinematic experience. Garrel’s strong directorial command predicates itself on the personal and abundantly heartfelt tone which is fully realized from frame one. Without being annoyingly ostentatious, Regular Lovers is daringly original and seductively transforming.
If you have yet to see any films directed by Garrel (and are a bit adventurous...I know the readers of this site are!), do yourself a favor and check out Regular Lovers. You may be joining the cult of Garrel before you even know it.