Featured on the main slate of the 55th New York Film Festival and winning the Composers’ Prize at Cannes last year, Philippe Garrel’s Lover for a Day offers a contemplative examination of love, anguish, lust and sexual autonomy. Casting his daughter Ester Garrel as Jeanne- a 23-year-old heartbroken after breaking up with her boyfriend Mateo (Paul Toucang) – who consequently decides to temporarily live with her dad (Eric Caravaca). Garrel’s monochrome feature is a piece of artistry upon the very nature of love. Expressive of the greatest poems and literature on the topic, it is a sophisticated entrée into exploring the fragilities of l’amour.
Recently seen on screen in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name (2017), Ester Garrel’s Jeanne is initially a figure of pain; physically awash with frightening moments of agony. Again adopting the ethos of working with his family members, exemplarily with his father Maurice in Liberté, la Nuit (1983), and his son Louis Garrel in Regular Lover (2005), the lineage of placing those closest to him in front of the camera inevitably imbues the context surrounding her character with a psychological Freudian quality. Still, predating her entrance into the narrative, we firstly see Ariane (Louise Chevillotte) experience a deep sexual moment, against a white toilet wall, with Jeanne’s father, Gilles. It is a moment of pure passion in a public space, leaving one initially in a state of intrigue as to whether or not their relationship is one of lust or a deep spiritual understanding.
On her arrival, Jeanne, claims Ariane as ‘less beautiful’ than her mother amidst her pain. Extending the historicity of alluring French female actors, particularly Chevillotte, a newcomer to the big screen, holds every take with a captivating edge; drawing you closer and closer to her attractive freckled face. Garrel too, in monochrome, attracts the camera to hold on her frequently anguished complexation. Building a relationship henceforth from her residence at her father’s place, the two women allow their lives and secrets to become entwined with one another, away from the knowledge of Gilles. Continually, Ariane is allowed to express her youthful sexual urges to a level of secrecy, Gilles openly adopting the ethos of ‘what you do not know, will never hurt you.’- a very blase European approach to love.
A juxtaposition of each other yet still the same age, Jeanne and Ariane depict two sides of love that are the pinnacle and nadir of the profound emotion. Languid and sexually consuming in her relationship with Gilles, Ariane does not see the age difference between the two as a cause of concern. Further, she is a woman of independence and operates to a level of autonomy that is of verisimilitude. Yet, in light of recent allegations against Woody Allen et al, Lover for a Day, without its nuanced characters and philosophical edge, would be susceptible to backlashes and outright criticism. Nonetheless, at its uttermost core, Garrel and co portray the greatest human emotion of all with a softening touch, achieved through exquisite moments of dialogue, written partly by Philippe’s wife, Caroline Deruas-Garrel.
Surveying the negative aspects of being in a comfortable relationship, Jeanne claims that ‘At least, in solitude, you battle the cold’. Akin to any romantic line of Shakespeare, the solace of Milton’s writing or the lyrical dizzy heights of love in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, it’s a statement in the screenplay which encapsulates the insightfully articulate reflections on love Lover for a Day holds inherent through the narrative, performance and cinematic language.
Lover for a Day is out in cinemas from Friday, January 19th.