Thursday, November 10, 2005

incomplete exorcisms

Brief thoughts on Philippe Garrel's Sauvage Innocence (2001):

An earlier Garrel film, The Birth of Love (1993), flows (with multiple ellipses) from one non-event to another in the life of an aging man who starts affairs with women to escape from the idea of having a wife and children. That film was episodic, lyrical and jazzy in the way John Cassavetes' films are, and had a similar undercurrent of violent, haphazard emotions. Sauvage Innocence is relatively more plot-driven, making heavy use of ironies, repetitions, and even a moral dilemma or two. The story involves a young director, François, who is struggling to find a producer for his next work, an "anti-heroin film" based on the experiences of his recently-deceased girlfriend, and starring his current love, Lucie. He meets the middle-aged and wealthy Chas (Michel Subor, appropriately severe) who offers him the money - for the price of smuggling heroin into the country. The second half of the film is about the film-shoot itself, and is definitely more interesting as we witness François' film, Sauvage Innocence, come together, and discover that it is essentially a brutal reconstruction of his dead lover's downward spiral into addiction and death, his attempt at self-exorcism the only way he knows. Through Raoul Coutard's breathtaking widescreen, black-and-white images (again, channelling the spirit of the Nouvelle Vague) and Jean-Claude Vannier's spare piano score, the fatalism of the second half (it's not much of a spoiler to say that Lucie's reality comes to mirror that of the personality she is being "directed" to emulate by François, and François' Sauvage Innocence is left hauntingly incomplete, as is inevitably, Garrel's) is surprisingly tender, and by the final Eustachian fade-to-black, heartbreaking.

The Birth of Love and Sauvage Innocence are, to my knowledge, the only Garrel films available on DVD, with English subtitles.


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