Regular Lovers - Feature

  • The List
  • 1 September 2006

Wild innocence

As Phillipe Garrel’s Regular Lovers finally reaches Scottish screens, Tony McKibbin offers a cut out and keep guide to the man they call the ‘the Rimbaud of French cinema’.

Nico There are muses, and then there is what the French call an ‘actrice fétiche’ - a director’s key actor: Monica Vitti for Antonioni, Anna Karina for Godard, Stéphane Audran for Chabrol. Throaty chanteuse and sometime Velvet Underground singer Nico was Garrel’s long-term lover. She appeared in his experimental 70s films ?" La Cicatrice intérieure (1972), Un ange passé (1975) and Le Berceau de crystal (1976). Long after they split up, Garrel told their story in J’entends plus le guitare (1991), and more allusively in Le vent de la nuit (1999) in which the central character visits the grave of his ex-wife in Berlin. As in J’entends, it was Nico’s real grave that was used.

Heroin A former heroin addict, Garrel’s films are studded with references to the drug. In 2001’s Sauvage Innocence, a young filmmaker wants to make an anti-drugs films, and the only way he can fund his project is by drug running. In his latest, Regular Lovers, after the failure of the May 1968 riots, the characters retreat to a wealthy friend’s house and lose themselves in drugs.

Light ‘All you need is a face and a blank wall’, Visconti once said. No filmmaker believes in the power of the face more than Garrel. Most of the interiors in his films look spartan, partly because Garrel refuses to light a scene in a way that socially locates the characters.

Family Most of Garrel’s films concern notions of family. In Regular Lovers, there is a great scene in which he uses his son Louis, his father Maurice and Louis’ real-life mother Brigitte Sy.

Intimacy Garrel has always insisted he’s a filmmaker of the Left, but actually seems more interested in his characters’ attempts at love and communication than a general political purpose. His films, director Olivier Assayas once said, are like ‘messages in a bottle’.

Sound It’s thought that 90% of mainstream film sound is recorded after the event. Garrel’s raw soundtracks suggest most of it has been caught on location, and minimally rendered. It gives the films both a sense of authenticity and artificiality.

John Cale Formerly of the Velvet Underground, Cale has composed music for numerous Garrel films including Le vent de la Nuit. His quiet piano pieces never provide conventional cue music in a Garrel film, instead reflecting some inexplicable element of a character’s soul.

Zanzibar Garrel was one of a group of 60s dandies who took off to Zanzibar in 1968-69, got mashed up and made experimental films with money supplied by heiress Sylvina Boissonnas. These films were rediscovered and screened at the ICA in Spring 2002.

Suicide ‘Suicide is the radical decision exemplified’, Garrel insists. Many of his films focus on the subject.

Poverty Garrel loves the nobility of poverty as only the French middle class can. He once said ‘the film of mine you just saw was made for the cost of that Volkswagen over there.’

Regular Lovers is at Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 8-Wed 13 Sep only.

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