I thought it worth relating to you, dear reader, that the most recent film by Philippe Garrel, 2008’s “Frontier of Dawn,” is now available for rental on DVD over at Four Star Video Heaven. I highly recommend it, though I do so cautiously.
Garrel is nothing if not a difficult figure: There are few directors whose work hits me harder, yet I can’t in good faith recommend masterpieces like “Elle a passé tant d’heures sous les sunlights…” because it’s quite obvious that they’re just not films for everyone, nor are they films for every mood. The difficulty in grasping Garrel also resides in the way that he strikes more or less the same chord with each film, and yet the movies seldom resemble one another. The formal play of “Elle a passé tant d’heures…” is a far-cry from the bifurcated grown-man blues of “The Birth of Love,” just as the lovers’ limbo in “I No Longer Hear the Guitar” is very different from the tug-of-war between life and art in “Emergency Kisses.” Each film leaves roughly the same stain, though in an altogether singular manner. But Garrel consistently nails it, and each film is as devastating and warm and involving as the one that preceded it. As much as I appreciate the far-outness of the first phase of Garrel’s career (the Zanzibar films and whatnot), I’m glad that he elected to translate his life—or rather, his solitude—faithfully into a series of wonderful movies.
It’d be a mistake to assume that “Frontier of Dawn” picks up where Garrel’s last film, 2005’s “Regular Lovers,” left off. May ’68 is now 40 years old and exists only beneath the fingernails of his characters, whereas in “Regular Lovers” it was a elegiac cloud that followed them everywhere they went, even into their most private spaces. Though the political manifests itself here and there in “Frontier of Dawn” (sometimes for comic effect), Garrel is much more concerned with finding and capturing the fragile type of love that he wrestled with in his work from the late 80s and early 90s.
The first hour of the film is a kind of nod to “I No Longer Hear the Guitar,” though Carole (Laura Smet) is just as similar to Brigitte Sy’s character in “Emergency Kisses” as she is to Johanna ter Steege’s take on Nico. Smet’s performance is especially gutsy because Garrel has her constantly flirt with tortured obviousness, yet she successively manages to keep Carole believable and wired to explode. Garrel’s son Louis basically plays the sort of character that Philippe would’ve played himself if he weren’t 61; Louis’ performance is much subtler, much less caricaturish and much more cleverly played than what he brought to François in “Regular Lovers”—in other words, it struck me as being a much more mature performance, but I guess 3 years’ll do that to ya.
William Lubtchansky’s images are, as always, overwhelmingly rich; the dialogue—partly written by frequent Garrel collaborator Marc Cholodenko—is perfectly prepared and cooked and utterly resonant; and the pacing is an agonized crawl, a bottle shattering in slow-motion, the sun refusing to rise after a sleepless night. At 61, Garrel seems to have any number of films left in him. Let’s hope he continues to inch closer and closer to his own essence.