Wednesday, January 13, 2016

IN THE SHADOW OF WOMEN, indeed! Philippe Garrel's tale of two relationships opens

What with the demise of Alain Resnais (who died last year at age 91), the title of grand old man of French cinema could easily go to Philippe Garrel (if not André Téchiné). All three have decades of movies to their credit and are quintessentially French in their refusal to over-explicate as they deal with the various relationships their movies tackle. But while Téchiné and Resnais spread their nets of theme and content far and wide, M. Garrel has been content to traverse basically the same landscape: the difficulties of love between a man and a woman (more often a man and women). The decade in which the film takes place may change, but much else remains the same. Yet those of us who appreciate Garrel's work (TrustMovies admits to arriving at this point slowly and late), these similarities seem of little consequence. His latest, IN THE SHADOW OF WOMEN, is a case in post.

This director and co-writer (with Caroline Deruas, Arlette Langmann and Jean-Claude Carrière) also works more in black-and-white than in color, and for those of us who love this medium, the capture of glistening greys, darks and lights is about as sumptuous as can be imagined (the cinema-tographer this time around is Renato Berta, and his results are exquisite). Also -- and wisely, I think -- for his leading man, the director has chosen someone other than his son, Louis, whom he often uses. Instead it's that interesting, attractive and very low-key actor Stanislas Merhar, who made an unforgettable film debut back in 1997 in Anne Fontaine's Dry Cleaning.

As good as is M. Merhar (above) is as the lead character, Pierre, it's the women here who steal the show, particularly Clotilde Courau (below, right), as Merhar's partner in both love and work. (The pair are documen-tarians who are currently making a film about an old man who was a French resistance fighter back in WWII.) As is often true of men (French or otherwise), Pierre is rather self-satisfied, narcissistic and not particularly giving of his time or energy. When another attractive and available woman appears on the scene, he is more than ready to indulge himself.

How Garrel takes the pulse of this initial relationship, as well as the new one (newcomer Lena Paugam, below, plays "the other woman"), proves telling and on-the-mark. Both women are smarter, and more "in control" than their man. They are also more honest -- even if, yes, they're guilty of their own spying and/or infidelity.

How all this plays out, including the documentary about the resistance fighter, is charming, thoughtful and finally even a little moving. Creativity and passion are given their due, and Garrel's classic style -- an on-and-off narration (voiced by Louis Garrel) fills in some of the narrative/character blanks -- may have you wondering in just what decade all this is taking place. When a cell phone appears, you know you're in modern times.

Mostly, though, In the Shadow of Women is so beautifully filmed that you can simply sit back and luxuriate in its splendor. After being invited last year into the NY Film Festival, the movie -- from Distrib Films and running a mere 73 minutes -- opens theatrically in New York City this Friday, January 15, at both the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the IFC Center.

Further playdates, according to the distributor's website, are shown below:
1/18/2016 Bear Tooth Theatrepub Anchorage, AK
1/21/2016 Time & Space Hudson, NY
1/22/2016 Jacob Burns Film Center Pleasantville, NY
1/22/2016 Laemmle’s Pasadena Playhouse Los Angeles, CA
1/29/2016 The Royal – Laemmle Theatres Los Angeles, CA
1/29/2016 2/5/2016 Miami Beach Cinematheque Miami Beach, FL
2/12/2016 The Screen Santa Fe, NM
2/14/2016 Northwest Film Forum Seattle, WA
2/13/2016 2/13/2016 George Eastman House Rochester NY
2/21/2016 The Public Cinema Darren Hughes Knoxville, TN
2/25/2016 3/2/2016 Cable Car Cinema
         --Providence French Festival Providence, RI
4/15/2016 4/17/2016 Sonoma Film Institute Rohnert Park, CA

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